Can a new 'anti-woke' university make it financially?

On Nov. 8 the University of Austin in Texas came into being. It will grant undergraduate and master's degrees and plans to purchase property, classroom buildings, labs, dormitories and related facilities, as well as hire faculty and staff. The price tag will of course be staggering.

The university says it “will not factor race, gender, or class into admissions decisions, standing firmly against that sort of discrimination.” It will be “fiercely independent — financially, intellectually, and politically.”

In sum, it will be anti-woke, anti-cancel culture, and more significantly, pro-free speech — unlike virtually every other university and college in the country. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Will the media pay any attention to this new and different university? It has no convenient excuse not to: The university won’t be run by right-wing ideologues. Its board of advisors, for example, includes non-rightists Robert Zimmer, former president of the University of Chicago; Nadine Strossen, former president of the ACLU; Lawrence Summers, president emeritus of Harvard University and former Treasury secretary; Caitlin Flanagan, a writer with The Atlantic; and David Mamet, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. The university’s founding president is Pano Kanelos, former president of St. John’s College.

The most obvious question is: Can this university make it financially? 

The answer is yes. I base this on my personal experience at Hillsdale College in Michigan. When George Roche became president of Hillsdale in 1971, it was dead broke. It had no endowment at all — and in fact, finances got so bad that the local pharmacist sometimes took money out of his till to pay faculty salaries.

But Roche had a vision: He would launch a monthly journal, Imprimis, reprinting the lectures of scholars delivered at Hillsdale and mail it free to fans of the college. When I arrived at the school in 1978, Roche had raised the mailing list to 40,000. He put me in charge of editing and managing both the speakers and the journal. When I left the college in early 2000, the number of Imprimis monthly readers had reached over a million and financial contributions from those readers literally flooded in — some small, but others huge over time. The endowment reached over $100 million — with a more-than-promising future.

In September, Hillsdale College reported that it had “over 6,000,000 subscribers” and an endowment of $906 million. The number of students now enrolled is 1,468. The contributions pour in, and the number of readers will grow even bigger. The exponential growth pays quite easily for speaker honoraria, printing and mailing.

Imprimis is directly or indirectly the financial lifeblood of Hillsdale College. This is the power of vision.

ADVERTISEMENT

The new University of Austin could wisely emulate George Roche’s vision; it needs only the strength to implement it.

It’s off to a great, unique start: Next summer it plans to offer its first course — a program called “Forbidden Courses,” where students will discuss “provocative questions that often lead to censorship or self-censorship.”

John Stuart Mill’s insight in “On Liberty” fits perfectly with the aim of this new university:

“If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.

“Though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions, that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.” 

Let the honest collisions begin in a civilized manner.

Ronald L. Trowbridge, Ph.D., is a policy fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. He was appointed by President Reagan to the United States Information Agency and later became chief of staff for U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger.