Checking In With the University of Austin

Bari Weiss’s unaccredited university launched a summer program called "Forbidden Courses"

NEW YORK - MAY 05:  Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Niall Ferguson attends Time's 100 Most Influential People in...
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NOT U.T. Austin

The University of Austin, the unaccredited, anti-woke university launched last November via Bari Weiss’s Substack (not to be confused with actual institution of higher learning the University of Texas at Austin), officially has students — approximately 80 of them, working away on their unofficial certificates from June 13 to 24.

The school was the brainchild of a small group of centrists, intellectual dark web affiliates, and Real Time with Bill Maher roundtable regulars — including historian Niall Ferguson, Bari Weiss herself, Atlantic contributor and former American Enterprise Institute president Arthur C. Brooks, Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, and evolutionary biologist Heather Heying, who resigned from Evergreen State College in 2017 over her husband’s pushback against an equity initiative that led to campus-wide protests and the couple eventually filing a lawsuit against the school. (All but Brooks are currently listed as the school’s “founding trustees;” Brooks serves on its board of advisors.)

UATX claims it plans to seek accreditation, but until then they are now offering a postgraduate fellowship for the fall. They still seem to be planning an “undergraduate curriculum” for some point in the future, which will include a two-year thesis-like project, called interchangeably a “north star” or “Polaris Project.” For that, the site suggests students might “compose a symphony in honor of lost languages” or “develop a white paper for a new cryptocurrency that solves a technological problem in the finance industry.”

But for the time being, the inaugural summer program, called “Forbidden Courses,” includes seminars on taboo topics like “freedom,” as well as workshops for developing “practical skills” like “how to write an op-ed” and “how to live an entrepreneurial life.” Classes start today, seven months after former St. John’s President Pano Kanelos, who serves as UATX’s first leader, first announced the academy in November. The program is billed as a response to “the current turbulence — political, social, and cultural —” that “forbid[s] us from encountering one another honestly and authentically.” UATX’s salve amounts to two week-long series of seminars and workshops, mainly funded by Lonsdale, and held, somewhat confusingly, in Dallas, not Austin. Students can participate in either week or both.

The University did not return Gawker’s request for comment or provide a copy of any syllabi. But according to their website, the first week will “investigate contemporary issues to gain clarity on the question: ‘Who am I as an individual?’” For the lucky few undergraduates who made the cut, this question will be answered with the help of these four professors:

  • Niall Ferguson: the conservative Harvard historian, who once claimed that “empire is more necessary in the 21st century than ever before,” will be teaching a seminar on “free vs. unfree societies in the 20th century.”
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali: the anti-Islam activist, whom the Council on American-Islamic Relations once called a “notorious Islamophobe” and “one of the worst of the worst of the Islam haters in America,” will be teaching a seminar on “free speech, religion, and women’s rights.” (Ali and Ferguson are also married.)
  • Dorian Abbot: the geophysicist, whose scheduled lecture at MIT last fall was canceled after protests over his characterization of affirmative action and diversity programs as “repeating the mistake that made possible the atrocities of the 20th century,” will be teaching “approaches to climate change.”
  • Rob Henderson: the Cambridge PhD candidate, Substacker, and Quillette writer will be leading a seminar on “the psychology of social status.”

That all sounds scintillating. But those begging for more forbidden treats can stay a second week, in order to explore “the contours of debates over freedom, science, capitalism, and liberalism in Western history and development.” For that task, UATX recruited these talented candidates:

  • Kathleen Stock: Britain’s leading TERF philosopher, who resigned from the University of Sussex last year following student protests over her dedication to writing about which bathrooms trans women should use, will be making her intellectual debut across the pond with a class called “varieties of feminism.”
  • Jacob Howland: the ancient Greek philosophy scholar, whose primary interactions with the intellectual dark web seem to involve writing about administrative squabbles within the University of Tulsa, where he’s a professor emeritus, will be pontificating on the juicy subject of “ideology.”
  • Dierdre McCloskey: the conservative economist and author of articles like “The Great Enrichment Was Built on Ideas, Not Capital” in Fee, and “The West Didn’t Steal Its Way to Wealth” in The National Review, will be teaching “capitalism: catastrophe or triumph?”
  • Thomas Chatterton Williams: Gawker’s favoriteex-Black” Guggenheim recipient, who spearheaded the infamous Harper’s letter in 2020, will be teaching a seminar on “black male writing from Richard Wright to Ta-Nehisi Coates.”

Those eight thought leaders will be helped along by 18 additional “workshop leaders,” including David Mamet, six venture capitalists, the founder of a start-up aimed at doing business in the Metaverse, and a co-president of Marvel Entertainment. Sounds great.

Many of those names will be familiar to those who read the school’s announcement essay back in November, which included a list of the school’s 33 supporters. Shortly after the announcement, two of the academics Kanelos named — Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker and former University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer — publicly disaffiliated with the university over its stated values.

But it seems few others followed suit; of the 33 people Kanelos named, most have landed positions at the school as either faculty, trustees, or advisors. Only two of that initial group (besides Zimmer and Pinker) are not included on the UATX site: AI researcher Lex Fridman and Tufts political science professor Vickie Sullivan. It’s unclear whether they are still involved; neither immediately returned Gawker’s calls and emails.

According to the UATX Twitter account, some 325 students — all ages 18 to 24, per the eligibility guidelines — applied for the spots, including “a startup founder, a novelist, a published scholar, an app developer, a prosthetics technologist.” Expect to read some more of these imminently.