The nation’s newest university isn’t 10 days old, but it’s already entering damage-control mode. The University of Austin announced Monday that high-profile advisers Steven Pinker and Robert Zimmer were leaving its board of advisers, where they briefly served as part of the brain trust shaping the college’s free-inquiry-focused mission.
When the self-styled “UATX” launched last week, its founding president Pano Kanelos said it would “restore the meaning to those old school mottos. Light. Truth. The wind of freedom,” in the face of “universities [that] are doing extremely well at providing students with everything they need… except intellectual grit.” It was both a mission statement and an implicit critique: the University of Austin will be “fiercely independent,” in contrast to an academic establishment hopelessly captured by censorious progressive ideologues.
The launch announcement came with a roster of name-brand thinkers to lend it intellectual luster, including the historian Niall Ferguson of the Hoover Institution at Stanford (who is a founding trustee at UATX), former Treasury secretary and former Harvard president Larry Summers, and the polymathic economist Tyler Cowen.
Harvard’s Pinker has kept quiet about why he’s ending his affiliation, but the University of Chicago chancellor Zimmer made