Apart from a few readers of the Marginal Revolution blog most people will not have heard of the University of Austin.
In part, perhaps, because it doesn’t exist yet.
But it might represent a turning point in the increasingly depressing track of higher education.
A bunch of leading academics and public intellectuals (list here) have had it with the narrow, bureaucratised and woke university world. They plan to set up their own show.
Not long ago, the project would have been outlandish. Now it feels timely – necessary even.
More than a few students, parents and employers will be wondering why it took so long. (But equally don’t underestimate the opposition of those with an interest in the status quo.)
The growth of higher education in the last century – with all its faults and limitations – was one of the adornments of the age.
But in many places, primacy of mission has become prey to faction and narrow sectional interest.
If the University of Austin succeeds it will be because it is able to rescue the joy of scholarship and learning from the tyranny of pettiness and social conformity. And re-create the balance between scholarship, utility and maturity that exemplifies the best of tertiary education.
If it succeeds, it will surely put pressure on the global university establishment to change its current course. First to feel that pain will be the institutions which rely on student fees. But in time – perhaps even before the end of the current century – that pressure might spill into the tenured ranks of endowed and government-funded dons.
And if it fails now, it’s too good an idea not to happen again. Indeed it’s part of the history of the contest of ideas, as Oxford’s relationship with Cambridge reminds us.
So three cheers for the academic – a divine, a historian? – who typed the lines:
“It is time to restore the meaning to those old school mottos. Light. Truth. The wind of freedom. You will find all three at our new university in Austin.“