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University of Austin says it's creating a new type of school that challenges censorship

The University of Austin logo. (Bari Weiss/Substack)

A controversial college coming to Austin stirred surprised reactions when plans for the institution were announced Monday.

The liberal arts school is known as The University of Austin, or UATX, and currently lacks any accreditation and a physical campus, though its headquarters are at 2112 Rio Grande St. While accreditation can take years, the school's website says their conversations with accredited partners "lead us to believe that we'll have a much shorter time frame than that."

In a lengthy 1,600 word Substack post referencing George Orwell's "thought crimes" and Frederick Douglass' vision for learning, incoming president Pano Kanelos described higher education in the U.S. as "fractured" and outlined her vision for a new type of university where students will be taught "classical principles of leadership and market foundations."

She cites that four out of five American Ph.D. students are willing to discriminate against right-leaning scholars and that currently university students are unwilling to participate in the "core activity of democratic governance."

Classes could start as early as next summer, with plans for a program known as "forbidden courses" where students will discuss censorship, according to the post. Then next fall, the school aims to launch master's programs in entrepreneurship and leadership. An undergraduate program with courses ranging from philosophy to economics is planned for fall 2024.

Kanelos arrived in Austin three months ago after leaving a position as president of St. John's College in Annapolis. She and other founders nodded to Elon Musk and Joe Rogan as inspiration for the site of the new school, and described Austin as "a hub for builders, mavericks and creators."

As the Daily Beast reported, the school is "fiscally sponsored" by Cicero Research, a nonprofit affiliated with Joe Lonsdale, who cofounded data-mining company Palantir.

The university has said it will not factor race, gender or class into admission decisions. In recent years, Austin has seen fights over affirmative action. In 2016, the Supreme Court rejected Abigail Fisher's challenge to a race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas. Shortly after, the Young Conservatives of Texas hosted a bake sale where they assigned prices based on the buyer's race and gender.

Besides admissions, Kanelos also noted concern that academics face being ousted for "having a wrong opinion about hot-button issues such as immigration or gender differences." Kanelos' colleague, American journalist Bari Weiss, who she referenced as an early collaborator for the university, has a history of ousting attempts in academia. As an undergraduate at Columbia, Weiss was part of a campaign that suggested criticisms of Israel, in particular those made by Arab professors, were racist.

Some took to Twitter to reference the campaign, comparing the new institution to predatory for-profit colleges, or call it a "grift."

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the school has received funds to start, but is currently looking for $250 million more and will institute a funding model that outsources student affairs, athletics and other extraneous services.

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