“No other recent effort that I know of has boasted the same combination of ambition, near success, and, ultimately, abject and total failure.”
The Liberty Institute was supposed to be a conservative/libertarian think tank at the school, intended to broaden intellectual diversity.
Professor Richard Lowery explains where things went wrong. He writes at the James G. Martin Center:
How UT-Austin Administrators Destroyed an Intellectual Diversity Initiative
By now, only the most dishonest or intentionally ignorant observers deny the existential crisis facing higher education. Universities no longer even maintain the pretense of dispassionate rational and free inquiry, focusing instead on a particularly toxic and frankly absurd form of “social-justice” activism, increasingly even in the hard sciences.
Why does this situation persist? Here, I can contribute to our understanding, having had a front-row seat to perhaps the most spectacular failure of a higher-education reform effort in recent memory: the “Liberty Institute” at the University of Texas at Austin.
No other recent effort that I know of has boasted the same combination of ambition, near success, and, ultimately, abject and total failure. The effort was undone not through the machinations of the campus Left but through weakness on the part of supposed conservatives, a lesson that anyone else wading into reform efforts should learn.
Our story starts with a small group of faculty in the business school at UT-Austin, who recognized the need to push back against the growing dominance of left-wing social-justice activism on campus. One of us, Carlos Carvalho, was given an opportunity to lead a small, policy-focused center within the business school. Over a few years, we built the Salem Center for Policy into one of the most active centers on campus.
As these activities built up, we developed an increasing network of supporters who encouraged us to pursue more ambitious goals. This was the genesis of what became known as the “Liberty Institute.” We drafted a brief proposal for an independent academic unit that could house faculty with perspectives and research agendas that would disqualify them from employment elsewhere on campus.
What we saw at UT-Austin was a huge gap in the study of the fundamentals of how free societies function, as well as the relationship between freedom and human flourishing. Virtually all other areas on campus where such ideas were explored effectively required that teaching or research take a perspective that such societies are, in fact, oppressive; that radical social change is necessary; and that activism designed to undermine the traditional foundations of free societies is a moral imperative. Beyond the obvious inappropriateness of presupposing such conclusions, such criteria were also clearly at odds with easily observable facts. Thus, effort was needed to restore sensible analysis to UT-Austin.
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