Editorials, Opinion

Gee lends support to UATX, a ‘safe space’ for flawed ideas

Monday’s breaking news was West Virginia University President E. Gorden Gee’s name among the list of founders and advisors for the new “University” of Austin — an organization that, despite its moniker, has no accreditation, no campus and no classes, but it will offer a non-credit summer course on “forbidden” topics.

According to its website, the University of Austin proclaims, “For universities to serve their purpose, they must be fully committed to freedom of inquiry, freedom of conscience and civil discourse. … UATX will be fiercely independent — financially, intellectually and politically.”

Ironic, really, considering many of the names on the press release belong to well-known conservatives who claim to have been “canceled.” Founder and president Pano Kanelos even said, “The reality is that many universities no longer have an incentive to create an environment where intellectual dissent is protected and fashionable opinions are scrutinized.”

The so-called victims of cancel culture among the founders, faculty and advisors will say they were run out of town for differences in opinion. However, a “difference of opinion” is whether or not pineapple belongs on pizza, to paraphrase an internet aphorism, not whether or not certain people have the right to exist and in what spaces.

Among the canceled founders, faculty and advisors are:

○ Jon Lonsdale, a tech CEO who recently came under fire for calling fathers who take paternity leave “losers” and saying real men “work harder” after a child is born to be the bread winner;

○ Bari Weiss, a former New York Times opinion writer who is best known for leading her own cancel culture crusade at Columbia University against Arab scholars and for her emphatic and uncompromising pro-Israel views;

○ Niall Ferguson, a historian who has been called out for homophobic remarks about an economist, organizing an all-white and all-male panel of lecturers for a history conference and for dedicating an inordinate amount of time in an awards speech to complaining about the expansion of university history courses to include the contributions of women and non-white people;

○ Heather Heying, a former professor of evolution who quit her job at Evergreen State College after her husband (also a professor at Evergreen) had an altercation with student protestors and who, in early 2021, took to the Fox News circuit with her husband to promote anti-COVID vaccine conspiracy theories;

○ Kathleen Stock, a former professor of philosophy who resigned after students protested her anti-transgender teachings;

○ Dorian Abbot, a geophysical sciences professor, and Peter Boghassion, an assistant professor of philosophy, who both decried “diversity” initiatives, somehow oblivious of the mountain of research quantifying the obstacles to women and people of color in higher education and white-collar work (Abbot cowrote an op-ed comparing diversity initiatives to Nazi policies, while Boghassion was censured by his university for academic misconduct after he published several “hoax” papers);

○ Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Dutch and American activist and politician who was welcomed into America’s post-9/11 conservative circles based on her hardline anti-Islam stances; and …

We could continue, but there’s not enough space.

Does higher education need reform? Yes, undoubtedly.

But the solution to higher education’s problems isn’t to create a sham university where the “academic” debate isn’t about Aristotle vs. Plato, but about why fellow human beings don’t have the right to exist as they are and don’t have the right to the same access and opportunities as others.

Our disappointment in President Gee for supporting such an institution is profound beyond words. Gee’s hand at the University of Austin’s helm may very well tarnish the reputation of the real university over which he currently presides.