New Anti-Woke Unis ‘The Only Way to Get Rid of Cancel Culture’

Setting up new and better universities is the only way to reform a sector riddled with entrenched, extremist left-wing ideology, and is even more important in the wake of the academic world’s response to the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, says historian Niall Ferguson. Aa senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Professor Ferguson was in Austin this week to welcome the first cohort of students to enroll at the University of Austin, where he is a founding trustee along with US journalist Bari Weiss. The two have helped launch a private university in the Texan capital that will be permanently free of campus cancel culture and dedicated to free speech and academic rigour. “There came a moment in 2021 when people were just being cancelled left and right at universities, and we decided we’ve got to do this,” Professor Ferguson said. The march of anti-Semitism at US universities and around the world, including in Australia, made Professor Ferguson more determined to make the University of Austin, which has already attracted $US200m ($307m) in ­donations and about 20 full-time faculties, a success.

“After the events of October 7th, the strange responses we saw on campus, we no longer have to explain why we are building the university,” he said. The October 7 attacks and the subsequent Israel-Hamas war triggered an explosion of anti-­Semitic protests on and off campus that shook Americans’ faith in its elite institutions. Two Ivy League university presidents – Harvard’s Claudine Gay and University of Pennsylvania’s Elizabeth Magill – resigned last year in the wake of a national outcry over their defence of anti-Semitic protests on campuses on “free speech” grounds. In Australia, 64 per cent of Jewish students said they had experienced anti-Semitism at university after October 7 – a greater than 20 per cent jump compared with the preceding year according to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. While he would not comment directly on Australian universities, Professor Ferguson said the fall of the Ivy League presidents and some academic backlash to anti-Semitism did not mean the old institutions would markedly change course any time soon.

“I don’t think the fact that two of those presidents have since left their positions means the end of wokeness,” he said. “It’s not in retreat but rather very well entrenched. Declaring victory because Claudine Gay has stepped down is naive; there will not be any real change in institutions, such as Harvard, which is not an outlier, until not just the president but the whole bureaucracy of diversity, equity and inclusion has been dismantled.” Future students and their parents joined Professor Ferguson and other public intellectuals, including Michael Shellenberger and Harvard professor Roland Fryer, for a weekend of lectures and events. “The great thing about Austin is it’s cool, it’s a great place to build a university … We have a huge cluster of tech companies here, the economy is booming,” Professor Ferguson said. Elon Musk was considering setting up a STEM-based university in the city, too, according to reports that circulated late last year in the US.

The University of Austin’s constitution, drafted largely by Professor Ferguson, explicitly enshrines free speech and includes disciplinary mechanisms for staff who contravene the free speech principles. “Universities have been perverted from their true purpose, which is not politics but scholarship,” he said. “We have a constitution that will make that impossible.” Professor Ferguson said cultural change at traditional elite universities, which he said had consciously chosen to transform themselves into hotbeds of radical politics under the moniker of “diversity, equity and inclusion”, would be almost impossible for a generation. “All those people have been appointed with tenure,” he said. “What are you going to do? Fire them all? It’s impossible.” British universities, he said, weren’t as political as those in the US. “The reason that they’re not as bad in the UK, at Oxford and Cambridge, doesn’t mean that there are not people there with similar motives,” he said.

Source: The Australian

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