Conservative figures and personalities in the US announced the founding of the “University of Austin alternative college” last Monday morning on Twitter.
We got sick of complaining about how broken higher education is. So we decided to do something about it. Announcing a new university dedicated to the fearless pursuit of truth: @uaustinorg:https://t.co/ZqRLXcF2n0— Bari Weiss (@bariweiss) November 8, 2021
The University of Austin – not to be confused with the University of Texas at Austin, a top-50 public university in America – is being established in response to what is colloquially known as “woke-ism,” a rising phenomenon in the US and much of the Western world. The emphasis on issues concerning demographic discrimination, such as racism and sexism, has been associated with left-leaning politics.
"We're done waiting for America's universities to fix themselves," the school's video roll-out states. "So we're starting a new one."
The school’s founding trustees include former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss, historian Niall Ferguson, and the co-founder of data software company Palantir Joe Lonsdale. University of Austin’s initial Board of Advisors includes several notable figures in American political discourse, such as Somali-Dutch author and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author and commentator Andrew Sullivan, and former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers.
"So much is broken in America," writes the former president of St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, and University of Austin founding trustee Panos Kanelos, "But higher education might be the most fractured institution... Nearly 70% of students favor reporting professors if the professor says something students find offensive."
Weiss, an avid defender of Israel, was among the founding members to announce the establishment of the University of Austin. She resigned from the New York Times in 2020 for "caving to the whims of critics on Twitter" and for what she described as a lack of freedom of expression at the publication and among her colleagues.
“Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor,” Weiss wrote in her resignation letter. “As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions,” she added.
Weiss is a prominent voice for Diaspora Jews in the United States. She has defended Israel and Jewish life in America in her columns, public appearances and personal social media accounts. Her book “How to Fight Anti-Semitism” was published in 2019, the same year she was named the seventh most influential Jew in the world by The Jerusalem Post.
“Woke-ism” has bred what has been deemed “cancel culture,” where the emphasis on gendered and racially-sensitive language has led to dissenters being shouted down at lectures, harassed on social media, or even dismissed from their jobs.
A recent example is former UK philosophy professor Kathleen Stock, who joined the University of Austin Alternative College as a Founding Faculty Fellow after resigning from the University of Sussex following accusations of transphobia. In October 2021, a group of LGBT+ students campaigned for Sussex to remove the professor from her position. Police had to advise Stock to take additional safety precautions, including installing CCTV at her home and using bodyguards on campus.
She eventually resigned from the university, citing attacks on her by colleagues and an "extreme" response from their students, saying that, "instead of getting involved in arguing with me using reason and evidence – the traditional university methods – they tell their students in lectures that I pose a harm to trans students."
On its website, the University of Austin says that it's "seeking accreditation as a private post-secondary educational institution from the Texas Higher Education Board and initial accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission, an accreditor recognized by the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as an assigned regional accrediting organization."
Critics have described the institution as a group of politically-conservative “critics of ‘cancel culture'” who have started an “unaccredited university,” as the Houston Chronicle said last Wednesday.
The University of Austin Alternative College has received over 3,000 inquiries since its announcement, according to faculty.