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University of Austin–Nice Try But No Cigar

November 9, 2021

Today, November 8, the gifted and hard-working Niall Ferguson has published–in a business journal–his support for a new university founded by Panos Kanelos.

Kanelos retired from St. John’s in Annapolis where he served as President for four years from 2017 to 2021. As President,  Kanelos also taught a course in the Great Books and he may be expected to teach at University of Austin as well.

The new university has lots of hoops to jump through, but initial financing of $10 million suggest that a goal of $285 million is not too high for this new university.

Ferguson’s essay titled “I’m Helping to Start a New College Because Higher Ed Is Broken” is a jeremiad about higher education in our time, an analysis of what’s gone wrong and a naïve statement that the “cure” may be found in starting new colleges.

My sympathies are with Ferguson, Kanelos and a baker’s dozen of others desiring to found a new college (Bari Weiss, Heather Heying, Peter Boghossian, Kathleen Stock, Ayaan Hirsi Ali; and advisors including Robert Zimmer, Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, Glenn Loury, Tyler Cowen, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Deirdre McCloskey, David Mamet, Sohrab Ahmari, and Caitlin Flanagan) because I too wrote a highly critical book about higher education, argued in many fora about what has gone wrong and naïvely believed that a solution was to be found in starting new colleges .

Moreover, I did start a University and jumped through all the hoops to get it nationally accredited—twenty-one years ago.

Working alone, but with the support of Paul Weyrich and Morton Blackwell, I raised a small amount of initial financing, opened an office, attained state authorization, recruited a faculty, attained national accreditation for eleven degree and certificate programs and learned the art of instructional design of courses for distance learning via the Internet. But my university was an Internet university and faculty were contracted to teach an Internet based course.

Had my purpose been to offer courses in classrooms, I would need much more financing than what I knew I could raise.

And though motivated for much of the same reasons that motivate the founding of the University of Austin, I had a firm idea of what should be offered in a Liberal Education. I knew that American higher education was corrupting our youth, but I was not simply criticizing the education Establishment.

Also, college teachers are financially conservative. If they are tenured they are not likely to accept an invitation to join a startup university. They tend also to want academic tenure and “Regional Accreditation” requires that “control” of what is taught and by whom is in the hands of “faculty”—administrators and Boards are advisory.

That the University of Austin announces that it seeks “accreditation,” my guess is that they will jettison that goal.

If that is their decision, what will they do?

How about trying education?

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