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Saturday, November 13, 2021

New University Provides An Alternative to “Woke” Higher Ed

A commitment to free thought and inquiry will be a foundational principle for the new school.

Image Credit: Ted McGrath - Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This article is excerpted from LiberatED, a weekly email newsletter where FEE Senior Education Fellow Kerry McDonald brings you news and analysis on current education and parenting topics. Click here to sign up.

“I criticize by creation, not by finding fault,” said the Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero. This is such an important message.

There is a lot to be critical about in our current culture, and finding fault is easy, but it doesn’t prompt change. Change comes from creators. These entrepreneurial individuals see unmet needs and missed opportunities and develop solutions. They imagine alternatives to the status quo, and they invent new and better products and processes. They inspire others to do the same, collaborating and competing in a dynamic free market of ideas and innovations.

A recent example of this in the education sector is the launch of the University of Austin, a new, brick and mortar university set to compete with the legacy institutions that have become both financially and ideologically extreme.

“Something is rotten in the state of academia and it’s no laughing matter,” wrote Niall Ferguson, a former Harvard professor and one of the new university’s cofounders, at Bloomberg this week. “Grade inflation. Spiraling costs. Corruption and racial discrimination in admissions. Junk content (‘Grievance Studies’) published in risible journals. Above all, the erosion of academic freedom and the ascendancy of an illiberal ‘successor ideology’ known to its critics as wokeism, which manifests itself as career-ending ‘cancelations’ and speaker disinvitations, but less visibly generates a pervasive climate of anxiety and self-censorship.”

The University of Austin plans to evolve slowly, beginning with a summer program, followed by a Master’s program, and eventually a full suite of undergraduate liberal arts degree programs. The creators hope that this new university will compete with existing higher education institutions and provide an alternative for the many parents and students seeking a more balanced education rooted in free thought and inquiry.

Ferguson writes that “it often feels as if there is less free speech and free thought in the American university today than in almost any other institution in the U.S.” He later adds: “When a problem becomes this widespread, the traditional American solution is to create new institutions.”

Criticize by creating. Rather than bemoaning the current policies and practices of entrenched educational institutions, build an alternative. Instead of becoming discouraged at what schools or colleges are teaching today’s students, create another way. Some entrepreneurial educators are already doing this in the K-12 education sector, and it’s great to see more change occurring in higher education as well.

Critics may point out problems, but creators are the ones who actually change the world.

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