It's been just over a week since wealthy Substack kvetcher Bari Weiss announced the launch of her latest passion project: the University of Austin, currently an unaccredited storefront that doesn't offer degrees or even courses but will theoretically host theoretical students and theoretical faculty who will theoretically delve into theoretical issues like "can librarians rap?" and "should Palestinian professors be allowed?"
Sound like a scam? Yeah, it's a big huge scam.
What's important here is not the fact Weiss' UATX (the school's preferred, and utterly unpronounceable acronym) is a laughably stupid exercise in masturbatory libertarian whining, or the fact that the financial side of this idiotic house of cards is being helmed by a data mining technocrat whose previous experience with college-aged students ended in accusations of sexual assault. No, what really matters is that in just over one week, Weiss' vaulted UATX has already begun to implode spectacularly. Because, for as much as UATX wants you to believe it's the academic home for the sort of dangerously free thinkers who love phrenology and hate Islam, a lot of those same free thinkers have suddenly decided: whoooaaah hold on a sec, I'm not quitting my current cushy university gig for this shit.
First up, there was advisory board member and West Virginia University President Gordon Gee who on the very same day UATX launched, wrote an eight paragraph letter to the WVU community to stress that he's still 100 percent their guy, and he was only offering advice and, hey, it's only because WVU is so darn great in the first place that he felt compelled to spread the gospel to a bunch of Substack weirdos.
"Serving in an advisory capacity does not mean I believe or agree with everything that other advisors may share. I do not agree other universities are no longer seeking the truth nor do I feel that higher education is irreparably broken," Gee wrote, in reference to UATX President Panos Kanelos' unambiguous claim thereof. "I do not believe that to be the case at West Virginia University."
Gee's "hey man, I'm doing just fine right where I am, let's not get too carried away here" missive was echoed that same day by transphobic former University of Sussex philosophy professor Kathleen Stock, who also went out of her way to stress that, no, just because she'd been invited to join UATX as a "Founding Faculty Fellow" (teaching what? Who knows! The school still doesn't actually list any concrete courses) doesn't mean she'd actually be leaving the UK and shlepping all the way to Texas. Don't be crazy!
Nothing says delighted and honored like staying completely put for your part time role that you're doing "in various ways from a UK base."
In the intervening days, two more of Weiss U's high profile advisors have backed out entirely.
In a letter to the University of Chicago on Monday, Chancellor Robert Zimmer explained that he wished UTAX all the best, but said, "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."
Jeffrey Epstein-adjacent Harvard professor Steven Pinker was even more succinct in his withdrawal, saying simply he'd left the advisory board "by mutual & amicable agreement" and that he was instead going to focus on his podcast. End of story, no more questions please!
And it's not just academics who are distancing — or divorcing themselves entirely — from the hallowed, if nonexistent, halls of Weiss Academy. The day UATX was announced, I reached out to each of the advisory board's home universities to see how they felt about faculty members associating with an institution whose president described traditional colleges as "no longer [having] an incentive to create an environment where intellectual dissent is protected" and that "the priority at most other institutions is simply to avoid financial collapse."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the schools I contacted weren't too keen on offering their official insight into their own employees' understandably questionable decision to throw their lot in with a competitor in the field of Higher Ed. Of the more than a dozen schools I contacted, only a handful responded by the time of this blog's publication, none of whom actually backed — or even wanted to really acknowledge — their faculty's involvement.
The most detailed non-comment I got was from a spokesman at Brown University, whose economics professor Glenn Loury is listed as a member of UATX's advisory committee:
I appreciate the invitation to comment but we'd defer to Professor Loury to be a source directly, should he choose. Faculty at Brown are involved with a wide variety of organizations, projects and people, and they often elect to speak about some of that work with news media -- but there's no involvement by Brown in a larger way, nor do we have firsthand information on this effort, so we'll defer to those involved to offer perspective.
In other words: "Hey man, it's a free country, innit? We're just gonna do our thing over here, vibing, chilling, and if he wants to get involved in that whole mess, well, that's his business, not ours."
For its part, UTAX has opted to go with the full corncob response to this wave of defections, writing in a statement on Pinker and Zimmer's absconsion that:
The advisory board was never intended to be a corporate body that endorsed everything that UATX did or said. On the contrary, our goal in seeking advisers was precisely to have expert critics from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds, united only by a shared desire to help us create a new institution that would set an example of academic freedom in action. It was always our intention for this board to be a fluid and informal group.
It's great when people quit! We love it! This was the plan all along!
I look forward to seeing UATX carry that spirit of free thinkers just giving up and going home well into the future.