The Limits of UATX

This announcement about the formation of the University of Austin (UATX) is welcome,

It will surely seem retro—perhaps even countercultural—in an era of massive open online courses and distance learning to build an actual school in an actual building with as few screens as possible. But sometimes there is wisdom in things that have endured.

We believe human beings think and learn better when they gather in dedicated locations, where they are, to some extent, insulated from the quotidian struggle to make ends meet, and where there is no fundamental distinction between those who teach and those who learn, beyond the extent of their knowledge and wisdom.

We believe that the purpose of education is not simply employment, but human flourishing.

Creating an alternative the universities that profess the search for truth as their guiding value, while simultaneously squelching dissenting viewpoints or even persons, is something that needed to be done.

Yet UATX’s emphasis on being fiercely independent even includes being fiercely independent from any religious affiliation. From a Christian perspective, detaching pursuit of truth from the person of truth only leads to the very problem that UATX is trying to escape, namely a Nietzschean dynamic of power determining the limits of truthful acceptability. Pursuing a liberal arts education committed to a libertarian freedom of inquiry and speech without a commitment to formation in the common good as expressed in the Christian faith only gets your students as far as the University of Chicago, not to human flourishing. It’s as if the UATX team looked at the current situation in academia and only took one step back without considering that they are now standing on the launching pad for the very kind of institutions they want to avoid becoming.

I’m sure the United States could use more truly liberal art universities, but I do wonder what drove this group to the costly endeavor of forming UATX instead of investing in some of the really “fiercely independent” schools out there already, such as Hillsdale and Grove City. The announcement of UATX is reminiscent of when a faction splits off from a mainline church to form their own group rather than joining one of the many already in existence. It hints that there may, in fact, be motivating factors connected to power, rather than liberality, driving the project.