Bari Weiss’ no-accreditation, no-degree ‘university’ for the canceled triggers mass bemusement

Former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss and friends’ new online ‘university’ devoted to “forbidden knowledge” has critics howling over her dubious record with free speech on campus. Others think it’s just what students need.

The venture, called the University of Austin and headquartered in the eponymous city, was officially unveiled on Monday by co-founder Pano Kanelos, who supposedly left his job as president of St. John’s College in Annapolis in order to help launch the Texas-based institution. Other founders include conservative academics and other mild dissidents like historian Niall Ferguson, venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale, writer Arthur Brooks, and evolutionary biologist Heather Heying.

Kanelos’ introductory letter offers a grim view of US education, claiming that over a third of conservative academics and PhD students had been “threatened with disciplinary action for their views.” Citing a study from the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, Kanelos added that nearly a quarter of students in the social sciences or humanities fields reportedly favored giving colleagues the boot for merely holding a “wrong opinion,” and 80% of American PhD students were willing to “discriminate against right-leaning scholars.

Despite her alleged persecution, Weiss remains popular on social media and doesn’t hesitate to institution-drop when her credibility is challenged, reminding others that she worked at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. However, she infamously helped get several Arab faculty members harassed and even fired due to their differing views on Israel and Palestine.

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Former New York Times editor Bari Weiss appears on CNN's 'Reliable Sources' with host Brian Stelter, October 17, 2021.
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Many on social media were quick to jump on Weiss for exactly that, mocking her claims that she was bullied - rather than the individual doing the bullying.

Many deemed Weiss’ ‘university’ a scam right out of the box, including Eoin Higgins, who declared it was “PragerU for the upscale bigot set.” PragerU serves up right-wing viewpoints in bite-sized YouTube lessons, but its content is available for free. It’s not clear what the University of Austin plans to charge for tuition, though site visitors are strongly encouraged to contribute on the ‘Donations’ page of the website.

Quite a few snarked at the ulterior motives they suspected of Weiss, dismissing the project as a cash grab by the self-styled ‘intellectual dark web’ types - a term that Weiss helped popularize.

The university site is sparsely furnished, though the donation page informs potential donors their contributions are tax-deductible and funneled through Cicero Research, a company owned by co-founder Lonsdale. The entrepreneur found himself ‘canceled’ after commenting that men who require six months of “paternity leave” are “losers,” but partially retracted his statement after the internet rained down digital fire and brimstone on his head. Lonsdale co-founded dystopian tech firm Palantir Technologies with Peter Thiel, another police state booster, aided by a hefty share of CIA money. 

The University of Austin, designed to launch this year with a ‘summer program’, already seems to have fallen behind its own schedule - but next year promises a “graduate program in entrepreneurship and leadership,” with “graduate programs in politics and applied history and in education and public service” to follow. An undergraduate college is supposed to launch in 2024.

Despite the general disdain for Weiss - whom comedian and podcaster Jimmy Dore once deemed “smugnorant” for her inability to explain the words she herself used to criticize politicians she didn't like - not all comments attempted to trash her.

Most of those comments, however, came from people involved in the project in one way or another.

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