Controversial University of Austin receives its first-ever 4-year applicant
Update: A former version of this article listed E. Gordon Gee as the president of University of Austin. Gee was a university president while sitting on the board of advisors, but only of West Virginia University. UATX's president is and was at the time Pano Kanelos, former president of St. John's College.
The neutrally named University of Austin (UATX) may not call many images to mind about ideology, save what associations people already have about the city. (And it is certainly easy to confuse with the very separate University of Texas at Austin.) But the fledgling conservative-led school has already taken a strong stance for freedom of speech, and amassed a complicated reputation among national onlookers.
Now, it is embarking on a new portion of its journey, searching for its first four-year students. The university is moving into its downtown Austin campus in December of 2023.
When it was announced in 2021, the university drew many a skeptical eye for its lofty claims of beating American universities to the punch as they neglect to "fix themselves," while dedicating itself to the "pursuit of truth." But list of well-known early supporters further clouded onlookers' certainty: Was this a real university, or not?
According to the university in a release on November 8, the "Texas Higher Education Commissioning [sic.] Board" says it is. The release stated that the board granted "full university status," allowing it to start granting four-year degrees. But it is still not an accredited university; basically, the school's validity appears to be verified, but its quality has not.
The Texas Tribune on November 8 explained the current status after a site visit by "a group of experts:" "Last month, the [the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board] gave the school permission to start granting degrees by authorizing a two-year certificate. The board can renew the certificate every two years for an eight-year period while the school seeks accreditation from a national accrediting body."
Scottish historian and Board of Trustees member Niall Ferguson tweeted on the day of the announcement that the university had received its first application. It is looking for 100 founding freshmen, who will receive four-year degrees at the end of their studies.
A curriculum breakdown on the university's website organizes the four years into two sections and an overarching personal project. First are two years of "intellectual foundations," which at a glance do not draw many hard lines. According to the university, "Seminars will examine (among other subjects) the foundations of civilization and political life; the importance of law, virtue, order, beauty, meaningful work and leisure, and the sacred; the unique vibrancy of the American form of government and way of life; and the character and consequences of ideological tyranny."
Next are two years of "junior fellowship" in a specialty academic center also within the university. "Our curriculum won’t be for the faint of heart," the description says. "Courses will be purpose-driven, cohesive, and intellectually rigorous. That’s exactly what an education should be." Specializations appear to be available in politics, STEM, and the arts.
Over all four years, each student will work on a "Polaris Project," in which they will "build, create, or discover something that meets a pressing human need, providing value to others."
The university will also find support within the "UATX Talent Network," which a release says is "composed of hundreds of businesses, and tech, political, creative, and academic leaders who are enthusiastic about mentoring, offering internships and apprenticeships, and interviewing and hiring UATX students and graduates."
As Forbesreported in 2021, the university faced early criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. The recent Tribune article also listed some of the past controversies among university affiliates that have raised eyebrows. This fall, the West Virginia University (WVU) Assembly voted that it was not confident in the leadership of their president, E. Gordon Gee, who was one of the most vocal early defenders on UATX's board of advisors.