The Cicero Institute property at 2112 Rio Grande is currently being renovated to provide office space for a dozen UATX staff. (Photo by John Anderson)
Fed up with California bureaucratic restrictions on everything from his business to his garden, Joe lonsdale uprooted his family and took his talents to Austin amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Lonsdale, who co-founded Palantir Technologies with Trumpish tech goon Pierre Thiel, said the mini-right-wing media mogul Ben shapiro last year that Texas offered a haven for “builders” like him: “Why am I in [the Bay Area], where everyone hates people making things and our city is so dysfunctional? We build in Texas and it’s really easy to do. “
“The new university made a number of statements about higher education in general, for the most part quite critical, which differed very significantly from my own views.” – University of Chicago Chancellor Robert Zimmer in a statement announcing his resignation from the UATX board of directors
So easy, it seems, that you can just set up a university there. Last week, Lonsdale signed on as a founding administrator of the Austin University, Which one is not the University of Texas at Austin but is presented rather as a remedy for “Culture of censorship” on university campuses. Why Austin? As “UATX” stated on its new website, “If it’s good enough to Elon musk and Joe rogan, that’s good enough for us. “
The fledgling university says it is simultaneously seeking accreditation through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Council and the Higher Education Commission, which is recognized by the US Department of Education and the Higher Education Accreditation Council. In an interview with the Austin American-Stateman earlier this week, the president of UATX Pano Kanelos said he hopes to create both a graduate program and an undergraduate college with between 3,000 and 4,000 students by 2024.
When it launched last week, UATX listed 31 members on its advisory board; as the the Chronicle went to press, this list now stands at 24. Notably, the Chancellor of the University of Chicago Robert zimmer announced Monday that he had resigned from the board of directors: “The new university has made a number of statements about higher education in general, largely quite critical, which diverged very significantly from my own views,” he said. he said in a press release. Meanwhile, culture warriors such as advisory board members and Atlantic writer Caitlin Flanagan joked about students sleeping with their teachers.
Like most colleges, the University of Austin intends to organize itself as a non-profit institution, to which donors can make tax-exempt contributions. Pending a decision from the IRS, UATX is relying on Lonsdale’s think tank, the Cicero Institute, who identifies as a largely non-partisan champion of the free market, to be its fiscal sponsor. Cicero’s building at 2112 Rio Grande is currently undergoing renovations to provide office space for a dozen staff. According to Judge Glock, senior director of policy and research at the institute, Cicero’s role in the management of UATX is minimal: âWe don’t touch or get involved in itâ¦ we have no part in it. management or deployment. In addition to funding from Lonsdale himself, Hillel Ofek, UATX vice president of communications, told Salon the school has already received more than 600 donations, including several seven-figure sums.
Andrew Gillen, a higher education expert at Austin-based curator Texas Public Policy Foundation, said UATX appears to be capitalizing on a market opportunity. “Not all universities have become, for lack of a better word, ambivalent or even downright hostile to dissenting voices on campus, but many have.” But he too warned against too much excitement. “It’s one thing to say you’re going to do this stuff. It’s another to actually do it.”