Bari Weiss’ backing of the new University of Austin proves it’s no haven for free thought
The University of Austin has been hailed as a milestone for open discourse, but it’s hard to be too enthusiastic about it when you consider high-profile backer Bari Weiss’ track record of not welcoming dissenting views.
Writer Bari Weiss has become a figurehead among the left-leaning intelligentsia who eschew modern “wokeness” in favor of classical liberalism. She solidified her status as a bold defender of diversity of thought when she publicly resigned from The New York Times, citing a hostile work environment rife with pressure for ideological conformity. Following that, she was called a “self-styled free speech martyr” by the Financial Times, and is reported to have even compared herself to Galileo Galilei, who was forced by the Catholic Church to renounce his scientific views, lest he be burned at the stake.
Now, Weiss has announced she will be part of a team of similarly disaffected intellectuals in founding a new institution, the University of Austin (UATX). Other figures involved include enlightened liberals™ such as Steven Pinker and Jonathan Haidt. Currently, the project is in its early stages and hopes to offer a summer program for students in 2021, but graduate programs are planned for launch in 2022 and 2023, with an undergraduate college to follow in 2024.
However, while many supporters welcomed news of the university and its claim to stand for free expression and open conversation, one can’t help but notice the ironic ideological homogeneity of those involved. And similarly, despite her rebranding as a stalwart defender of free speech, those familiar with Weiss’ career will note that she has not always been so welcoming of dissenting views.
Leaving the echo chamber… to create an echo chamber?
Reading UATX President Pano Kanelos’s statement about the founders’ desire to start their own institution, it’s clear that most (if not all) of those involved see the university as a way to escape the illiberal grasp that the “woke” left has on academia. This situation presents a strange paradox, however. In their eagerness to escape the political conformity demanded by the radical left, despite their stated intentions of creating an environment where diversity of viewpoint is welcome, those involved in UATX may have simply created an echo chamber of their own.
It would be a mistake to say that the people currently attached to UATX are mirror images of each other politically, but in their outspoken criticism of social justice and embrace of center or center-left political values, they are united. And although inviting in the same ideology that has stifled them might seem counterintuitive for UATX, in a world where the progressive left wields increasing political and social power, can any university that excludes that viewpoint really be said to expose its students to the full spectrum of ideological thought?
And similarly, another omission from the university’s team that followers of Weiss specifically were quick to point out, was the lack of involvement from pro-Palestinian (or anti-Zionist) thinkers.
Questions: will you allow criticisms of Israel? Will you allow students and staff to participate in BDS if they so choose?— Kim Iversen (@KimIversenShow) November 8, 2021
As Glenn Greenwald has documented thoroughly, despite her current status as a warrior for diverse thought, as an undergraduate student at Columbia, Weiss dedicated a considerable amount of time to calling professors critical of the Israeli government “racist” or “antisemitic.”
Considering that baseless allegations of bigotry are now the standard response for many in progressive circles, the irony of Weiss previously levying similar accusations against her political opponents has not been lost on those who have followed her career. And while it’s true that Weiss has come a long way since her undergraduate days, it remains to be seen whether UATX will in fact welcome critics of Israel like it has critics of the far left.
And interestingly, it’s not just those to the left of Weiss who so far have been excluded from UATX, but those to the right as well. Many conservatives may view Weiss’ condemnation of the woke left as a tacit embrace of right-wing thought, but as recently as 2018, that is far from the case.
In a piece on the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) for the New York Times, Weiss spoke disparagingly of Stefan Molyneux, Milo Yiannopoulos, Mike Cernovich, and Alex Jones, and even repudiated Dave Rubin, a popular interviewer who frequently engages with figures who have views different than his own, simply for platforming those she views as “controversial.”
Weiss’ tenure at The New York Times may have been a lifetime ago as far as the internet is concerned, but a quick glance through her cohorts at the university raises doubts as to whether her disdain for the dissident right has changed with her new-found appreciation for diversity of thought.
As conservative commentator Michael Knowles pointed out, despite the attempt by leftist publications to paint UATX as some right-wing thought experiment, in actuality, there are only two conservatives currently attached to the project, neither of whom has been known to stray from the right-wing talking points deemed acceptable.
N.B.: There are like two conservatives in the whole project. https://t.co/WwMmyO0qoO— Michael Knowles (@michaeljknowles) November 9, 2021
This omission by the university’s team is especially strange considering the statement of principle put out by Kanelos specifically decries the treatment of conservatives in academic institutions: “Over a third of conservative academics and PhD students say they had been threatened with disciplinary action for their views. Four out of five American PhD students are willing to discriminate against right-leaning scholars.”
For a group that seems to lament the exclusion of right-wing thought from academia, the team at the University of Austin have so far done little to remedy it.
The figures and motivations behind the UATX’s establishment do appear to hold a genuine desire for open discourse. But until that principle is actually practiced by accepting figures who genuinely differ in thought from the center-left views of the founders, the University of Austin will not be a haven for free thought, but merely a safe space for those leftists who have been alienated by their even further left counterparts.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.