University of Austin Loses Two Guiding Intellectual Lights a Week After Launching

Robert J. Zimmer and Steven Pinker canceled their ties to the anti-cancel culture school

Diptych of Robert J. Zimmer on the left and Steven Pinker on the right.
Robert J. Zimmer photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images. Steven Pinker photo: Brad Barket/Getty Images for Ozy Media.
Higher Ed

Please light two candles, for the confusingly named University of Austin that journalist Bari Weiss recently started with her friends has lost two singular luminaries from its scholarly ranks: Robert J. Zimmer and Steven Pinker. 😔

To be clear, they have not died. The advisors for the unaccredited university announced on Monday that they were resigning from the self-described bastion of “freedom of inquiry and civil discourse,” just one week after its grand unveiling.

“[A]s is often the case with fast-moving start-ups, there were some missteps,” the school’s statement about the departures began. “In particular, our website initially failed to make clear the distinction between the Founding Trustees and the Advisory Board … it conflated advisors, who were aligned in general with the project but not necessarily in agreement with all its actions and statements, and those who had originated the project and bear responsibility for those things.” According to the statement, this led to “unnecessary complications” for some members of the advisory board.

Zimmer, a mathematician and the chancellor of the University of Chicago, said in a statement on UChicago’s website:

I was asked to serve in an advisory role to the University of Austin by its founding president, Dr. Pano Kanelos. This board had no fiduciary, oversight or management responsibilities. While the new organization’s commitment to a liberal arts education and free expression reflects topics that are very important to me, I resigned from the Advisory Board on November 11, noting that the new university made a number of statements about higher education in general, largely quite critical, that diverged very significantly from my own views.

Pinker, a professor of cognitive psychology at Harvard University and one-time Jeffrey Epstein associate who thinks rationality is “da bomb,” tweeted that he is, “by mutual and amicable agreement,” stepping down from the University of Austin’s board of advisors to concentrate on his book (it came out in September) as well as his podcast/radio series. “[W]on’t be speaking on this further,” he concluded, and for good measure, he turned off his replies.

The University of Austin’s founding members have now been differentiated and split into two groups: founding trustees and board of advisors. The former group is made up of Weiss, former St. John’s College president Pano Kanelos, historian Niall Ferguson, evolutionary biologist Heather Heying, and Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale. The latter group, no less impressive, includes such thought leaders as additional Epstein associate Larry Summers and Princeton professor Joshua Katz, who has been accused of inappropriate conduct by multiple female students. Zimmer and Pinker will certainly be missed from this cohort.