A group of academics, intellectuals and entrepreneurs unhappy with the political climate on the nation’s college and university campuses is forming its own university in Austin, Texas.
Two of the academics may be familiar to Portland readers: Peter Boghossian, a former Portland State University assistant professor of philosophy who resigned in September after years of decrying what he saw as PSU’s “social justice factory,” and Heather Heying, an evolutionary biologist and former tenured professor at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., who, along with her husband and colleague Bret Weinstein, has made news with her skepticism about COVID-19 vaccines.
Boghossian, a philosophy professor, played an outsized role in PSU campus politics. He co-authored a notorious 2018 hoax satirizing the language of gender studies by observing canine sex in Portland dog parks, and shepherded a “freethinkers’ society” that was physically confronted by leftists—in a preview of clashes that would eventually paralyze the city. Both he and Heying, while at Evergreen, attracted the ire of peers and students for rejecting progressive beliefs around race, religion and gender, until finding an audience on the political right.
Heying is listed as a member of the university’s 31-member board of advisers. Boghossian is listed as one of three founding faculty fellows.
The University of Austin, according to its founders, will be a nonprofit, classroom-based institution that will begin offering graduate courses next year and undergraduate courses in 2024.
The startup is aiming for a specific niche: academics and students who feel shut out of what they believe is an exclusively left-wing atmosphere on most university and college campuses.
“Many universities no longer have an incentive to create an environment where intellectual dissent is protected and fashionable opinions are scrutinized,” writes the university’s founding president, Pano Kanelos, the former president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md. “At our most prestigious schools, the primary incentive is to function as finishing school for the national and global elite. Amidst the brick and ivy, these students entertain ever-more-inaccessible theories while often just blocks away their neighbors figure out how to scratch out a living.”
The university will not accept public money but says it’s raised enough seed money to get started and is in the process of raising $250 million.
“If it’s good enough for Elon Musk and Joe Rogan,” the university’s FAQ says, “it’s good enough for us.”