College, what is it good for?

The pursuit of truth, other practical considerations, and 5 links worth your time

Last weekend, I saw a former colleague at a conference and asked what he’d been up to in the four years since I’d last seen him. “I’m working on something really big,” he told me. “It will all be public on Monday.” He talked about higher education and mentioned Austin, Texas. It was a little mysterious, but I didn’t think much more about it. Until Monday.

Sure enough, I saw headlines and heard from friends about a post on Bari Weiss’ substack, Common Sense. Provocatively titled “We Can’t Wait for Universities to Fix Themselves. So We’re Starting a New One,” the announcement was written by Pano Kanelos, former president of St. John’s College in Annapolis. Kanelos left his job to help start The University of Austin, a new college “dedicated to the fearless pursuit of truth.”

“The most fractured institution of all”

I’ve linked the announcement below so you can read it for yourself, but I’ll give you the gist: Higher education is badly broken, according to Kanelos and his new colleagues, and it is past time to do something about it. Instead of trying to work within other universities to improve things, Kanelos and other notable academics have decided they’ll just start a new school from scratch.

What are the problems in higher education? There’s the “skyrocketing tuition.” That’s a subject we’ve discussed on our podcast before, and it’s something that should concern us all, given that a college education is often seen as a prerequisite for success. 

The founders of The University of Austin are thinking about this, and they’re also worried about preserving “freedom of inquiry and civil discourse” in the face of illiberalism or, as many others would describe it, cancel culture. Faculty at universities across America are “being treated like thought criminals,” according to Kanelos. 

The value of a college degree

There are very smart people associated with this new university, and the announcement succeeded in bringing national attention to significant problems in higher education. I wish the founders success in disrupting higher education because, when universities add administrators three times faster than students, that’s a business model that could benefit from disruption. 

I do wonder, though, how practical the fearless pursuit of truth is for the average college-bound student. UATX (as it will be called) does not currently offer degrees nor is it accredited, and that could prompt hesitation from many eighteen-year-olds who are more focused on how college will help them get a job than they are the dangers of cancel culture.  

What do we expect?

All of this should push us to think about what our expectations are for higher education and how those expectations affect what we think should be done to meet the many challenges we see today.

In our links this week, I’m including news about the new university, articles and a podcast that elaborate on the problems of higher education as outlined in Kanelos’ announcement, and a critic who claims the data don’t support claims of illiberalism on campus. Take a look and give some thought to what you do and don’t expect of higher education. I hope you’ll discuss it with others and drop me a line if you have time!

5 links worth your time

  1. Waiting for universities to fix themselves is pointless, so we just started a new one. 
  2. The reasons why colleges are so expensive
  3. Yale has the highest manager-to-student ratio of any Ivy League school. 
  4. Here is why we do need new universities.  
  5. Is UATX a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist?

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