Reprinted from the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal
So far, only the most dishonest or deliberately ignorant observers deny the existence crisis facing higher education. Universities no longer maintain the pretense of unpleasant rationalism and free inquiry, but instead focus on a particularly toxic and frankly irrational form of “social-justice” activism, increasingly in even the hardest science.
Why does this situation continue? Here, I can contribute to our understanding that a higher-education reform effort in recent memory got the front row seat for perhaps the most spectacular failure: the “Liberty Institute” at the University of Texas at Austin.
Any other recent effort that I know of is ambitious, close to success, and ultimately, proud of the same combination of inferiority and complete failure. The effort has been undone, not through the conspiracies of campus leftists, but through the weakness of supposed conservatives, a lesson that anyone else should jump into the reform effort.
Our story begins with a small group of faculty at UT-Austin Business School, who acknowledged the need to push back against the growing dominance of left-wing social-justice activism on campus. One of us, Carlos Carvalho, was given the opportunity to lead a small, policy-centric center within the business school. Over the years, we have made the Salem Center for Policy one of the most active centers on campus.
As these activities have been created, we have built a growing network of supporters who have encouraged us to pursue more ambitious goals. This was the beginning of what became known as the “Liberty Institute”. We have drafted a brief proposal for a separate academic unit that can keep faculty with perspectives and research agendas that would disqualify them from jobs elsewhere on campus.
What we saw at UT-Austin was a study of the basics of how free society works, as well as the relationship between freedom and human development. Virtually all other areas of campus where such national ideas were effectively explored that education or research take an approach that such national societies are indeed oppressive; That requires radical social change; And the activism that is designed to undermine the traditional foundations of a free society is a moral obligation. Beyond the apparent inadequacy of making such conclusions, such criteria were clearly in conflict with easily observable data. Thus, efforts were needed to recover intelligent analysis in UT-Austin.
The proposal we’ve made has received significant positive attention, and potential supporters have reached out to UT President Jay Hartzel to express their enthusiasm. The President kindly agreed to follow the plan.
At this point, the university, potential donors, and Professor Carvalho devised another plan that empowered an independent academic unit (thus, a college or a department) to appoint term-track faculty. This unit will offer a significant number of classes, including a major (politics, philosophy, economics, and proof), a minor, and a postgraduate degree. We will be tasked with significant outreach to high school students across Texas.
The plan, with the consent of the UT President and the Chairman of the Board of Regents, gained support in the Legislature and funding for the project was added to the 2021 budget. So we are preparing to implement the plan. Carvalho proposed to the President a preliminary committee of UT faculty to work on the project, but we never heard from him.
Instead, we spent many months working with other interested faculty for classes, curricula, and potential assignments.
We now know that, during this time, the President of UT appointed a critical race theorist in charge of the development of the Liberty Institute. That administrator, Richard Flores, belongs almost exclusively to the CRT-centric Mexican American Latino / Latina Studies Department. An initial attempt to place the institute in a business school, under our far-left dean, failed when he refused to cooperate. Previously removed from the portrait of the office of the former Dean and our nominee, Red McCombs, because there were so many white men, he clearly did not accept our project.
Then, at the end of August, Texas Tribune Run an unfavorable article on the project, which resulted in a continuous sequence of unfavorable faculty council meetings where UT professors attacked the idea, even opposing anything potentially conservative on campus. This The Tribune The article was explicitly used as an excuse to default on the original plan agreed with the state.
After the article appeared, Professor Carvalho was called to a meeting with President Hartzel about how to proceed. Unknown to Carlos, Richard Flores was also included in the meeting, and he determined how the institute would move forward. With the full support of President Hertzel, Flores directed that the Carlos Institute move forward only by finding people who want to hire existing departments and provide state-allocated funds to those departments.
This was clearly a complete default on what was agreed with the university legislature. The whole purpose of the project was to come up with some ideas and approaches that existing departments have filtered out because of their extreme political bias.
At this stage, Carvalho Flores rejected the plan and insisted on continuing with the one agreed with the legislature. He then reported what had happened to potential donors, which apparently led them to contact people in government who supported the plan. To our concern, the result of this communication was that the Chair of the Board of Regents, Kevin LTF, banned Carlos from any further involvement in the Institute.
Here was the moment when the project could be saved. Either the government could come and insist on following the original plan, or potential donors could present a united front demanding follow-through and the creation of a meaningful institute. Instead, everyone is totally drifting towards university.
Carlos was uninvitedly separated from a planned meeting between him and the donors, apparently at the urging of the UT president, who instead attended the meeting. Two of the three main donors have fully agreed to bring all the faculties together and come up with a plan to effectively end any statement on their behalf, excluding him from all subsequent involvement.
There was then a successful campaign to discredit Carlos’ character, in line with that effort (significantly led by Richard Flores) to weaken Rob Kuns, the last UT-Austin faculty member to attempt such an effort.
We continue to fight for the original vision, exactly why the Flores plan would be nothing more than an inverse fruitful fig leaf, but all our support evaporated as the university dug up. In the end, it was the conservative politicians and donors, not the Marxist faculty. , Which brought it down from their reluctance to face a so-called prestigious Texas organization.
At this point, President Hartzel began his campaign to maintain the illusion of the Liberty Institute’s progress. He formed a faculty committee that included Lauren Pangel, who was brought in as a professor at UT specifically to assassinate previous attempts to do something along this line.
Subsequently, a secret committee, apparently headed by William Inboden, began a “search” for a director. The search immediately focused on a single name, Justin Dyer, who founded the Kinder Institute at the University of Missouri, took money from conservative donors but coordinated with a leftist to create something that could be used to protect the university from further criticism without challenging it. . Campus orthodoxy.
Dyer and Inboden apparently have a long relationship. Dyer was even giving information about the faculty working on the UT project in Inboden and the president’s office. We never saw a posting or learned about the search until it was basically over, giving us the opportunity to bring in alternative candidates who would actually support the plan.
Notably, despite clear doubts about his quality as an academic, Dyer received a favorable term vote. Academic standards and state objectives were sacrificed to avoid clashes with leftists while creating the appearance of activity.
Thus, we have now started an institute that will be both intellectually mediocre (optimal) and does not have the ability to fulfill the mission of bringing low-prepared but important ideas to campus. The extreme hostility of the faculty towards this project shows the desperate need for something serious along this line. However, with the current administration of UT-Austin, nothing will be possible without the direct intervention of the state.