University of Austin students share anti-revival ‘forbidden lessons’

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Fed up with the increasingly woke and intolerant political climate on American campuses, former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss last year announcement the launch of the University of Austin, a new four-year college dedicated to “the fearless pursuit of truth.” The college aims to welcome its first class of full-time four-year undergraduates in 2024, and last month its first summer program, “The Forbidden Courses” series, admitted 80 college students to across the United States.

“It’s an incredibly smart group of people – a really thoughtful, daring group of kids. And that bodes very, very well for the future of the institution,” said founding faculty member Peter Boghossian. University of Austin, to the Post A former Portland State professor who was criticized for publishing hoaxes in woke academic journals, Boghossian taught a course at the University of Austin called “Street Epistemology,” about conversation techniques that help people think more critically about core beliefs.

During the two week-long summer sessions, funded entirely by donor contributions and held at a temporary location in Dallas, students attended small, discussion-based seminars, such as “Critical Thinking and the Freedom of ‘expression’ taught by feminist and activist Ayaan Hirsi. Ali, alongside shorter workshops, like “How to be liberal in an illiberal age” taught by Weiss.

Eighty students attended the first summer sessions at the University of Austin, taught in a temporary space in Dallas, with expenses fully covered by donors.
University or Austin

Author Rob Henderson, known for coining the term ‘luxury beliefs’ to describe woke ideology, taught a seminar called ‘The Psychology of Social Status’ and said he was blown away by his politically diverse students who ranged from “supporters of Marxism” to “defenders of the monarchy as their preferred political system. But one thing clearly united all of his students: when he asked how many of them held back their opinion for fear of social repercussions, he replied that nine out of ten raised their hands.

Robert Henderson, an outspoken critic of "awakening," teaches at school.
Robert Henderson, an outspoken critic of “wokeism”, teaches at the school.
Jude Edgeton

“Whenever I spoke with students, they seemed relieved to interact with others in an environment where they didn’t have to worry about being ostracized,” Henderson told the Post. “I don’t think they wanted to be in an environment where everyone agreed with them. They really wanted to be free to disagree. I have never seen so much intense good faith discussion in an academic environment before.

Since the school’s launch, Weiss has enlisted a powerful advisory board including former New York magazine columnist Andrew Sullivan, former ACLU President Nadine Strossen and economist Glenn Loury as well as high-profile administrators like Palantir CEO Joe Lonsdale. The Post spoke to three students who participated in the summer program about their experiences and asked whether the University of Austin should set a new standard for liberal arts education in America.


Hanna Noor: “It was like night and day compared to my previous experiences.”

Hannah Nour arrived at the University of Austin after being attacked by students at her Florida campus for criticizing Islam.
Hannah Nour arrived at the University of Austin after being attacked by students at her Florida campus for criticizing Islam.
Jessica friend for the New York

A recent graduate of the University of Central Florida, Hanna Nour quit Islam at age 19 and began speaking out as an ex-Muslim atheist. Immediately, some classmates and acquaintances began blocking her on social media and even slandering her as an “Islamophobe” for disagreeing with her former religion, Nour said.

“As a society, we have no right to criticize Islam because of political correctness. I was labeled as Islamophobic which was grossly insulting as someone whose family is Muslim,” said Nour, now 22.

The eminent critic of Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali teaches at the University of Austin.
The eminent critic of Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali teaches at the University of Austin.
Twitter

“I realized that ‘wokeism’ was treating me the same way my old religion of Islam had treated me – with the confinement and the feeling that I would be told what to do, what to say and even what to think.”

When she posted flyers for a free speech event featuring former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom Nour has long followed on Twitter, she said a faculty member at the University of Central Florida approached her and told her to stop. “He told me I was not allowed to post flyers for anything that might offend anyone, and he didn’t even see the irony in what he was saying. I mean, it was a free speech event!

When she heard about the University of Austin through Ali, Nour knew she had to enroll in the summer course. “The idea of ​​a new school based on the search for truth was so appealing,” said Nour, who will attend the University of Central Florida medical school this fall. “I want to be optimistic that our current institutions could change, but how long is that going to take?”

At the University of Austin, Nour was struck by her fellow students’ lack of judgment and curiosity about her status as an ex-Muslim. “I was surprised that other students just wanted to come and ask me questions. They wanted to hear my story, understand my perspective and learn more,” she said. “It was like night and day compared to my previous experiences. Freedom of thought and freedom of expression were right there.


Sophia Sadikman: “I found it easier not to speak at university, which is really sad.”

Sophia Sadikman attended the University of Austin's first summer session after being ostracized for her pro-Israel beliefs at Brown University, where she will be a senior this fall.
Sophia Sadikman attended the University of Austin’s first summer session after being ostracized for her pro-Israel beliefs at Brown University, where she will be a senior this fall.
Erin Sha for the New York Post

“College, frankly, was a little underwhelming for me,” said Sophia Sadikman, 20, a rising senior at Brown University. “I had high hopes that these would be these incredible four years of enrichment and personal growth, but unfortunately I found a lack of real desire to learn and a lack of ideological diversity both within and outside of the classroom.

Sadikman, who studies cognitive science, said she was ostracized on campus for being a pro-Israel American Jew. “Every time I say something that’s even a little countercultural, everyone turns their head and makes a face,” she told the Post. “I found it easier not to talk, which is really sad.”

Bari Weiss speaks at the University of Austin, the institution she helped found after leaving The New York Times.
Bari Weiss speaks at the University of Austin, the institution she helped found after leaving The New York Times.
University or Austin

When she read the University of Austin’s mission statement in the Wall Street Journal, she knew she had to apply for their first summer course.

While on campus, Sadikman said no topics were off limits and she was able to freely discuss thorny issues such as race, gender and religion. Some of the topics she debated in class included sacred cows that progressives accept as gospel truth, such as “Islam is a religion of peace” and “America is systemically racist.”

“Although these discussions are controversial, everyone approached these debates with respect,” Sadikman said. “It just created an atmosphere that was exactly what I wish college was for me.”

Sadikman’s two weeks at the University of Austin even inspired her to bring the fight for free speech back to her home campus by starting a new after-school club called Free Inquiry of Brown this fall. “My experience at the University of Austin has really made me want to change the campus culture at Brown in the future, so I’m taking the initiative and creating my own space on campus for open dialogue and discussion Politics.

“It was simply the most incredible learning experience of my life,” Sadikman added. “I don’t want to sound corny, but it really, really changed my life.”


Widener Norris: “When I go to college, I want to speak my mind and make my voice heard.

Widener Norris attended the University of Austin summer program to prepare for college life at the University of Georgia.
Widener Norris attended the University of Austin summer program to prepare for college life at the University of Georgia.
JT Tomlin/ Tomlin Visuals for e

As a new freshman at the University of Georgia, Widener Norris has yet to experience college life – but he worries about academia’s growing intolerance of free thought, a sentiment widely shared by current students and faculty across the country. “I am concerned about the apparent lack of diversity of viewpoints,” he told the Post.

Historian Niall Ferguson says he helped co-found the University of Austin
Historian Niall Ferguson says he helped co-found the University of Austin “because higher education is broken.”
University or Austin

“I haven’t really had any negative experiences so far, since I went to a high school where people tend to have pretty similar opinions to me,” the Athens, GA native said. “But I’ve been to a lot of colleges, and now I get a taste of some of their flaws. As I enter these four years at college, I want to be equipped to speak my mind, approaching diverse perspectives and making my voice heard.The Forbidden Courses program is a great way to learn this.

The 18-year-old, who plans to study biochemistry and molecular biology this fall, said he loves debating topics that are strictly off limits on most campuses.

“We would debate very controversial issues, such as whether transgender women are women,” he recalled. “The mere fact of bringing up such a subject would be considered voidable in most cases. [places], but we were able to have a civil and critical discussion. I was really amazed by people’s thirst for a real debate. Everyone on this program came from completely different political and social backgrounds, but we were really united in the sense that we yearned for a real discussion.

As Norris heads to his own school this fall, he is grateful to have spent a week in an environment where he was able to express himself freely. “The purpose of a university is to pursue truth – not relative truth but absolute truth. The only way to do this is to have genuine, good-faith discussions between people with different points of view.

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