An American Education:
Notes from UATX

Inside the "Forbidden Courses" at the billionaire-backed University of Austin, the campus of the "anti woke" commentariat. Student names have been anonymized.

A revolution in education! A resuscitation of the university mission! To happen in, of all places, not the pompous old northeast or the debauched West Coast, not New York or California but the country’s southern reaches—in the Texas Hill Country, in the city of Austin, where already technologists and venture capitalists had swarmed, drawn by the absence of income tax and the looseness of labor regulations, pulled by the mild zoning laws and the natural beauty and the food trucks and the good vibes. Austin, because it was “a hub for builders, mavericks, and creators.” Here a new university: the University of Austin, or UATX.

Around this idea journalists, historians, technologists, and financiers had assembled. People like Bari Weiss, Joe Lonsdale, Joshua Katz, Peter Boghossian, and more. They saw a void in American higher ed. There was not, they asserted, enough free speech. Where, they wondered, was the pursuit of truth? Nowadays, those things were hard to find, but they would be abundant at UATX, an institution to be built from the bottom up, through sheer will and courage—and some backing from billionaires. The Yales, the Stanfords, the UChicagos had been overrun by hordes of “diversocrats” and woke elites. At UATX there would be none.

Many of the founders had participated in the same conservative think tanks: The Hoover Institution, The Manhattan Institute, The American Enterprise Institute. Many had contributed to The Free Press, the digital paper founded by Bari Weiss in 2021, the same year UATX was announced. Many were friends or fans of Jordan Peterson. One UATX founder was even double-dipping, delivering lectures at both UATX and Peterson’s forthcoming Peterson Academy. One had been fired from Princeton University after sleeping with a student and “discouraging her from seeking mental health care,” per an official university statement. One had been accused of assaulting his girlfriend. (The charges were dropped.) Another had had a talk at MIT canceled after comparing Affirmative Action to “the atrocities of the 20th century.” And so, beneath their optimism, there churned bitterness and indignation at their mistreatment by the Thought Police—sour feelings they sweetened with their commitment to “free and open inquiry.”

To build a university you need money and time to raise it. But the founders were eager. They were ambitious, impatient. They wanted students and classes now. So in the summers of 2022 and ’23, UATX established weeklong programs where students at other institutions could attend seminars and lectures by “world-class scholars and knowledge creators”—a sort of anti-woke summer camp. Title: Forbidden Courses.

An alluring name, Forbidden Courses. I decided to take a look. Although my spleen is not inflamed by the culture wars, although my heart is not lifted by calls like Bari Weiss’s for a “coalition” comprised of “trads, whigs, normies,” I was curious. How plausible was their project? What ideas would they discuss? I applied to UATX last March. There was the cover letter, and the three essay questions, and the writing sample. I speckled them with Harold Bloom and Nietzsche. “Exploitation … belongs to the essence of what lives,” that sort of thing. April 6th, the letter arrived in my email inbox: “Congratulations! … UATX is extending you an offer of admission to Session I of this year's Forbidden Courses.” I flew south in June. 


THE University of Austin is not in Austin. Not yet. It’s 200 miles northeast, in Dallas, on an office complex owned by Mr. Harlan Crow. “Old Parkland,” the complex is called. Crow, a conservative billionaire who recently made the news for funneling thousands of dollars in undisclosed gifts to Justice Clarence Thomas and his family, gives money to UATX, too. He also rents out rooms in Old Parkland to the nascent university, at what UATX founder Peter Boghossian called “a generous rate.” I would later encounter the rich Texan at several UATX lectures, squinting and smiling in preppy athleisure.

Crow is a savvy investor, from a family of savvy investors. (His father, Trammell Crow, was thought to be the largest private landlord in the US.) He invests not only in real estate but ideology. He’s donated to the conservative magazine The National Review, conservative thinktank The Witherspoon Institute, and at least two powerful libertarian organizations started with funds from Charles Koch—The Institute For Justice and The Cato Institute. If Crow is putting money behind UATX, it can be inferred that he believes the school will promote the same values as other recipients of his patronage—privatizing social services, lambasting attempts to increase sexual and racial diversity in education and the workplace—and will lead to the same effect—maintaining power in the hands of wealthy white men.

Like the campus itself, the hotel UATX put us up in was owned by the Crow family. It’s a glittering model of that ‘70s postmodern icon: the atrium hotel. Fredric Jameson once said postmodern spaces like atrium hotels tended to “abolish the distinction between the inside and the outside.” There’s some of that here at the Hilton Anatole. Marble fountains and fig trees and rows of tropical flamingo flower fill the Grand Atrium. Voices burble from across the 37,000 square-foot space, reflecting off stone and brick to fade into blurry tones. But, what with the reverberation and the glass ceilings, you also have the vague sense of being underwater, in some kind of deluxe fish tank. 

The fish tank has an illustrious history. The Hilton Anatole hosted the Reagan-Bush staff during their ’84 campaign, which a silver plaque in the “Chantilly Foyer” commemorates. Donald Trump gave the keynote speech of the Conservative Political Action Conference there in 2021 and 2022. The right wing is welcome here.


“THIS place is so hard to get into,” Peter Boghossian, philosopher, was telling me. “Because it’s the top”—he indicated an imaginary peak with his hand—“of the top”—he jerked his hand to a higher stratum.

It was the evening of the first day. I’d missed the student shuttle to the commencement dinner, so I got to wait in the hotel for the second one with faculty and staff, including Peter and UATX’s president, Pano Kanelos. Pano is the former president of St. John’s in Annapolis, a liberal arts college known for its Great Books curriculum. He left to found UATX in 2021, writing that “our education system has become illiberal” on Bari Weiss’s Substack in November of that year. Peter, a former associate professor at Portland State University, also quit his job in 2021, citing the university’s transformation “into a Social Justice factory.” That was how he put it in his resignation letter, which Bari Weiss also published on her Substack, in September of 2021. He went on Fox News a month later, claiming that academic “institutions had been hijacked by maniacs.” Now he was one of five Founding Faculty Fellows designing UATX’s curriculum.

It happened to be Father’s Day, so when Peter, in between lauding UATX’s rigorous admission standards, mentioned a son, I wished him a happy one.

“Oh thanks,” he said. “I got jack and shit.” Muzak dribbled out of the hotel sound system.

“Shuttle’s here!” Loren Rotner, Assistant Chief Academic Officer, soon said, looking up from his phone. We all stood.

Peter sat next to me on the bus. He was fired up. He was delivering opening remarks later that night, plus we’d begun talking about a subject that interested him: exercise. “It’s indispensable for an intellectual,” he told me. “You should be exercising. Do you?”

I’d recently started going to the gym, I said. He looked doubtful.

“You gotta get into jiu-jitsu, man. I’m telling you.” Peter did jiu-jitsu. It’d changed his life. He spun around in his seat, scanned the rest of the bus, then whipped back to laser his eyes on me. “I could murder everybody on this bus and nobody could stop me. It’s a superpower.” I thought this over.

The bus wobbled out of the parking lot, careened down the freeway, then turned left onto Oak Lawn Avenue, where an architectural aberration sprang suddenly into view. Swollen, aggressively neoclassical, it towered above the concrete around it, like the brainchild of someone who looked at the Rotunda at UVA and said, “Yeah, but can you screw up the proportions and make it really huge?”

“It’s fucking amazing,” Peter said, as we pulled in. “You ever seen this place?”


HARLAN Crow's Old Parkland campus is crammed with 21st-century office buildings designed to look like stately Jeffersonian structures—red brick and concrete columns, pediments and dentils—all checkered with an ungainly number of windows. The buildings have names like “Reagan Place” and “Freedom Place.” Outside them stand statues of Adam Smith, John Locke, and America’s founding fathers. Set in a stone wall on the southeast of campus are various … mementos from Crow family vacations. BRICK FROM A SIMPLE HOME / KASHMIR, INDIA, reads one specimen; PRESIDENT AND MRS GEORGE W. BUSH … AND KATHY AND HARLAN CROW PICKED UP THESE ROCKS, reads another. 

The inflated buildings are so close together that you can’t really see them. You are trapped in a claustrophobic movie set, whose layout one Texas journalist has aptly described as “corporate campus meets college campus.” Later in the week, a fellow UATX student would look around in awe before turning to me and whispering, “It’s like something Trump would build.” Indeed. The terrifically botched proportions of the place bely the pretense that classical aesthetics was the real consideration here. The nostalgic design gives concrete expression not to architectural ideals of harmony and order but to political ones of rule by an exclusionary, monied elite.

Harlan Crow bought the property, on which a vacant hospital had stood, in 2006. Between then and 2015, he renovated the hospital and built seven new structures. The campus is now home to many firms named “[Noun] Capital.” For example: Highside Capital, Lennox Capital, Pharos Capital, RedBird Capital, Adelante Capital. The people Mr. Crow rents to are, in his own words, “people who want to have lunch together.” “We view it,” he told a local magazine, “as a club.” (George W. Bush is reportedly a member of this club, with a private office on campus.) If, one noon day, you were to take a cursory look at the cafeteria of Old Parkland, it would become clear what kind of person belonged to the club, what kind did not. Black and Latino workers would be cooking and serving food. A flock of white men in suits and pastel polos, most of them employed by venture capital firms, would be eating and chatting.

UATX students would spend plenty of time in the cafeteria throughout the week, but the commencement dinner was held in “The Pecan Room” of a different building, amid wood-paneled walls and oil paintings. We were served some kind of marinated chicken and left to mingle, us the well-groomed top of the top, us the Forbidden. We numbered 50 or so. We came from places like Harvard and Stanford and UChicago and MIT and U Penn. There was James, who studied computer science. Then there was Cameron, who also studied computer science. David and Peter studied computer science, while Luke and Albert studied computer science. As for Mike and Jason, the former studied computer science, whereas the latter studied computer science. Ethan was not unlike Max, in that both studied computer science. Some people studied business, too.

The students’ demographics were as revealing as their chosen majors. Roughly 80% were white. Over 70% were men. There was not a black man in the room. The way these percentages diverge from national higher education averages should tell you something about what kind of intellectual community UATX is building. In practice, UATX is recruiting a student body whose racial and gender makeup resembles a pre-civil rights university.

Pano Kanelos, president, stood up. It was time for the opening remarks. Our chatter lulled, and he began to speak in gentle, benevolent tones. He told us that we weren’t starting a university; we were a university. This is what a university looks like: people coming together for conversations, much like the ones we’d been having over our complimentary chicken dinners. “Dia-logue,” he said. “From the Greek, logos.” Two rational beings, engaged in rational discourse. He smiled. We smiled. And with little further ado, he introduced Peter, whom the other students had not yet had the good fortune of meeting. Peter, Pano told us, was “kicking butt in the righteous name of freedom.”

Peter springs to the center of the room. The air pressure changes. A buzz, a hum, a current about us. He brims with a frenzied energy. Something is happening. He is going to give us a taste of what’s to come, he says. This is the kind of intellectual activity we’re going to experience at UATX. We’re going to grapple with big issues. We’re going to be daring, fearless, undaunted. We’re going, he says, to do something called “Street Epistemology.”

What is Street Epistemology? He’ll demonstrate. It’s one of two things he does, the other being jiu-jitsu. “I don’t have a life,” he says. “I talk to strangers and I wrestle strangers.” But before we can do Street Epistemology, Peter needs to think of some questions.

He turns his back to the audience, hunches slightly and strides, stroking his chin. He is Rodin’s thinker set in manic motion; he is a relentless logician in his study at midnight; he is a frantically philosophical gremlin … —BAM! He wheels around and stalks forward and slings his index finger out toward a student, demands of him whether climate change is real?! and how certain is he?! and why?!—BOP! He points at another student, asks whether gender is a social construct, whether trans women are women?! He cites Socrates and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He staggers and weaves: as a boxer dances, so Peter lectures. He is the professor you never had; he is a squall of raw intellect; he is Robin Williams in the Dead Poets Society, but ripped. He is putting a gun to the head of your most precious assumptions.

And then it is over. That, we have learned, is Street Epistemology. It is asking the hard questions of another, and not refuting them when you disagree, but continuing to ask “why?” and “how certain are you?” until the temple of their convictions crumbles, and you can help them build a newer, sounder one.

The commencement dinner has ended, and we file outside to the buses. Tomorrow the Forbidden Courses begin.


FOR five days we sat around a wooden table in the Potomac Conference Room, on red leather armchairs, and dia-logued. On the eastern wall was a gauzy painting of an odalisque, a languid smile on her face. Gazing at her from across the room were two somber portraits of elderly men, rendered in the stiff spindly gloom of 16th-century English portraiture. We’d come here to discuss “Sexual Politics.”

At last: we could talk without fear. We were among friends. Away from the histrionic liberals, far from the Gender Studies departments, we could commit ThoughtCrimes with impunity. We could say things like, “It’s hard to get a woman’s perspective from a man.” We could express discomfiting ideas: “If Simone de Beauvoir were alive right now, she would be very popular, like Jordan Peterson.”

One might find disappointing the disjunction between UATX’s tantalizing marketing and its conceptual yields. UATX had tweeted, “Dare to think with us,” had promised that they were “Not your typical summer school…,” had titled their program “Forbidden Courses.” But what was aired in this particular Forbidden Course were opinions neither audacious nor surprising. They were platitudes about the nature of man and woman, of the kind encountered in bad romantic comedies produced in the aughts. “Women are more complicated than men.” “There are things that women want that they don’t like that they want.” “With boys, their bodies and their desires are one.”

Presiding over these revelations was our professor, writer Katie Roiphe. Roiphe, who teaches journalism at NYU, is the author of seven books. Tonally, logically, her sexual politics read in large part like a sterile extension of those found in Joan Didion’s 1972 essay, “The Women’s Movement,” which caricatures second-wave feminism as “women unequipped for reality,” “fragile cultivated flowers.” In Roiphe’s first book, The Morning After (1993), she argued that concerns about date rape on college campuses were overblown, suggesting that the real problem was self-victimizing women. In her second book, Last Night in Paradise: Sex and Morals at the Century's End (1997), Roiphe bemoaned how fear of the AIDS virus “impose[d] order on the voluptuous chaos of experience.” Safe-sex education, she implied, allowed oppressive puritan attitudes to sweep through America, reducing the messy glory of sexual freedom.

The reduction of messiness is a matter—is the matter—that concerns Roiphe. In class, she informed us again and again that life was not simple, but complicated. Speaking chiefly in the context of #MeToo and sex on college campuses, she told us that political language “imposes reductionism on experiences that are really complex. “The truth,” she let us know on Day 2, “is really so complicated and shifting and moving.” “Experience isn’t fixed,” she advised on Day 4, on which day she also cautioned that “one’s own perception of something changes over time.” Separating her words with suspenseful ellipses, ending her sentences with poignant upward intonation, sifting her hands horizontally through space, she sprinkled nuance into the air. In the abstract, these statements were true but banal. (Life is, sure enough, full of ambiguities.) When considered as “sexual politics,” they amounted to complacency, if not outright reaction.

One day, she accompanied this steady stream with something new. Speaking about the supposed immoderation of movements like the George Floyd protests and #MeToo, she offered quietist consolations. “These intensities and excesses fade. They die down. They always do,” she said. Here was an analgesic vision of history, in which riots and protests could be seen as blips, irregularities, storms to wait out in shelter, rather than fundamental catalysts of historical change.

It was in the aftermath of these palliative remarks that I saw Roiphe’s rhetoric as species of a larger genus. It belonged to that “specific genre of chin-stroking, brow-furrowing, ‘eye opening’ sophistry” identified by critic Tobi Haslett in Roiphe’s former student at NYU, Thomas Chatterton Williams. (Chatterton, not coincidentally, taught at UATX last summer.) Pupil and professor issue the same ideal, the same bold challenge: “to dwell in uncertainty,” to “get used to being confused,” as Roiphe put it throughout the week. 

Surveying the political field without venturing a step, endlessly weighing both sides, taking it all in with tranquility—this is an agreeable position. It allows banal contrarianism to masquerade as enlightened equanimity. Take, for example, a question Roiphe likes to contemplate in her writing and teaching. Is he at fault, because he assaulted her, or is she, because she drank too much and passed out? To refuse to decide on that question is, in effect, to allow the consequences of the second interpretation—exoneration—to unfold. What such heroic indecision often amounts to, in practice, is a craven reaffirmation of the powers that be.


THERE were other classes. “The Psychology of Morality” with psychologist Rob Henderson, a would-be Jordan Peterson. “Science and Christianity” with geophysicist and IQ-fetishist Dorian Abbot, whom you could hear say things like “I hate feminism,” a grin twisting his face. “Anglo-American Grand Strategy,” in which some 20 young men listened to historian Walter Russel Mead explain how the West had gained geopolitical supremacy over the past 300 years.

You could enroll in only one of the four Forbidden Courses, but I heard about Anglo-American from my roommate at the Hilton Anatole, Ralph. He was an excitable young man from the Midwest, who’d been a poll worker and middle school math teacher. His plane to Dallas had been delayed, so I didn’t properly meet him until the evening of the second day. I walked into the hotel room and found him staring out the window.

He turned as I walked in, then turned back to the window. “Woah! Ah man! Look at this! It’s a huge pool!”

Below us sprawled the hotel’s JadeWatersTM Resort Pool Complex. There were slides and a lazy river.

“Do you think we have access to that?”

I didn’t think so.


We developed a certain rapport, Ralph and I. Nights we’d lie in bed, stare at the white ceiling, and debrief each other on the day’s happenings.

“We talked about four schools of foreign policy. Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian, Jacksonian, and Wilsonian,” he told me after the first day of classes. “We listened to songs. That was great. The songs were a reflection of each school.” He liked Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” best. It represented the Jacksonians. He pulled it up on his phone.

We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,

We don’t take our trips on LSD,

We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street,

‘Cause we like livin’ right and bein’ free.

And I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,

A place where even squares can have a ball.

We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,

And white lightnin’s still the biggest thrill of all.

As the night wore on, we listened to more songs, and our talk meandered beyond the matter of classes to our work lives, our families, our politics. 

“For me, I’m more socially conservative,” Ralph told me. “You know, traditional family values. So like, in that song, ‘Okie From Muskogee’—that’s me. I wouldn’t want my kids to do drugs. So I’m not libertarian.” He sat up in his bed. The words were flowing now. “All I know is I have this set of beliefs and ideals,” he said, holding a hand curved in the air, as if it cradled those very ideals. “It doesn’t mean I want to lock people up in jail. It doesn’t mean I’m some kind of crazy.” Take immigration, he said. “I think immigrants are a lot more grounded than some Americans.” His parents were from Ukraine and Uzbekistan. “The freedoms—everything we have—the comforts”: most Americans took these things for granted. Not immigrants. “So I think more immigrants are better.” He lay back down and sighed.


OTHER students at UATX made Ralph look like a paragon of social justice. I speak of the school’s true target audience, of the young neoconservatives who seemed to think trans athletes and immigrants were the greatest threat to the Union, whose high school tuition had cost 4x a degree from a public university, who nodded at UATX speakers with graduate degrees from Berkeley or UChicago as they railed against “elites” and “elite culture” on the office complex of a billionaire. At lunch or between class sessions, you could hear them say interesting things. Consider the remarks of a single afternoon. One student, bravely reviving the pseudoscience of physiognomy, said that if your index finger was longer than your ring finger, that probably meant you were gay. Someone else claimed that 20% of Gen Z identified as LGTBQ. “There’s no way a society can evolve if 20% of its population is gay,” another student added, shaking his head. “Evolve,” in this case, seemed to mean “stay the same” or “turn back the historical clock.” Later, yet another statistic was cited: “7% of France is Muslim.” “Yeah,” a peer replied, “that’s a problem because they don’t want to integrate.”

The subtext of these remarks was simple. The social capital, political influence, and access to wealth that was formerly the uncontested and exclusive prerogative of straight white men was now under question. They felt it at school. They saw it in the media. They were here, at UATX, to live out a dying dream, to vent their frustration at its loss, and to help one another cling to it as long as possible. They recommended internships in finance and tech to each other. They recommended books. “Have you read The Strange Death of Europe?” one student asked, referring to Douglas Murray’s 2017 political text which propagates the ethnonationalist Great Replacement Theory. “That’s a great book,” he heard in reply.


THE guest speakers and founders of UATX were the ideal figures to strengthen these students’ ideas—or to indoctrinate the unconverted. Each evening after class we would congregate in the Debate Chamber of Old Parkland to heed them.

The room set the mood. Sunk in the basement of a building modeled after Monticello, the Debate Chamber gets no natural light. No matter, it is not dreary. What with the electric skylight glowing yellow and blue overhead in an eternal, artificial sunset; what with the walnut walls and the 75 seats set before white oak desks with inlaid leather tops, all oriented around an imposing stage; what with the naturalistic painting of Julius Caesar getting stabbed to death on the Ides of March  … you feel teleported into some grand ole’ political past, into the Roman senate, say, as depicted in Spartacus (1960, dir. Stanley Kubrick), or Epcot, summer 2004. (And if you need to leave to use the bathroom, you’ll get to pass by a massive oil painting of George W. Bush making the Hand of Benediction in front of the wreckage of 9/11, beside a Madonna-figure whose halo glows, I shit you not, with the Coca Cola logo.)

First up: Kevin D. Williamson, Writer in Residence at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, wearing a salt and pepper beard, a pink shirt, a blue tie. He riffed on the topic of journalism for 30 minutes. He enjoined us to read the bible and to “get yourself an 8th-grade grammar book” instead of a journalism degree. He suggested, usefully, that we “learn something about something.” He threw in a few zingers. For instance, The Washington Post published “boring, dry, sterile” articles. And Bernie Sanders was not “as crazy as he seems,” he was actually “a lot crazier than he seems.” Williamson shared some inspiring historical factoids, like, “the people who wrote our constitution, these people didn’t have law degrees,” forgetting the 32 framers who were lawyers. (Ralph, back in the hotel room that same night, would ruefully describe the whole thing as “a little too irreverent.”) Harlan Crow was in the audience with us that evening, wearing a pink quarter-zip sweater and a red face, chuckling at Williamson’s tedious jokes. At the end of the talk, when some students became aware of Crow’s presence, the excitement in the room was palpable. He embodied, after all, peak success. 

Up next, Mr. Seth Dillon, CEO of The Babylon Bee, or “the Onion for evangelicals,” as New Yorker writer Kalefa Sanneh has nicely put it. (They have headlines like, “Man Caught Drinking Bud Light Insists He’s Not Gay.”) Dillon spoke about “Canceling Comedy” the evening of the second day. Scoffing at opposition to “punching down” in comedy, he raised his eyebrows and leered and smirked. He demonstrated an impressive command of alliteration: “Nothing,” he said, “undercuts lunacy and lies like laughter.” He licked Mr. Elon Musk’s boots, exclaiming that “the world’s richest man took matters into his own hands,” bought Twitter, “and declared comedy legal again.” In his beard and suit, he was a spectacular manchild.

On the third day, we heard from Richard Hanania, who is the author of the book The Origins of Woke—blurbed by billionaire Peter Thiel as showing that “we need … government violence to exorcise the diversity demon.” Hanania is also the author of blatantly white supremacist articles, as HuffPost reported not long after I attended UATX. Writing under the pseudonym “Richard Hoste” in the early 2010s, Hanania advocated ethnic cleansing and forced sterilizations based on IQ tests. When HuffPost disclosed this at the beginning of August, Hanania claimed that his views had since changed—as would any neo-Nazi who cares about his upcoming book’s sales. The thing is, recent writing under Hanania’s own name is no less fascistic. He is the author of tweets supporting eugenics and calling for “more policing, incarceration, and surveillance of black people.” 

Unlike most of the previous speakers, he was not alone on stage but sat facing UATX professor Rob Henderson. This gave some unsuspecting students the impression that the two might argue. Perhaps Henderson and Hanania disagreed about something. Perhaps the “constructive debate” advertised by UATX’s website was imminent. As if conscious of this expectation, Henderson put on a funny little voice and asked Hanania if he could define the word “woke,” cleverly saying, “I think being woke just means you’re a good person.…” Hanania obliged Henderson, providing his personal genealogy of the term, before launching into a frantic invective against Affirmative Action and DEI. Following some warped line of thought whose only logic was that of racism, Hanania burst out that he’d “rather punish people for something they have no control over—the color of their skin” than because “their parents run around smoking crack!”

In February of this year, New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright wondered, with astonishing credulity, “whether UATX will be freewheeling or merely oppositional.” As the Hanania-Henderson talk showed, UATX’s commitment to “debate” is no more real than their championing of free speech. Used by the likes of Hanania and other UATX associates, such words function not as signifiers of actual practices or principles but as flags for rallying fellow members of the far-right. This fact was only magnified on the following night, when we heard from Bari Weiss.


THERE she was. Our most famous founder. Seated on the stage of Harlan Crow’s Debate Chamber. She who had identified the “iconoclastic thinkers” and “academic renegades” that comprised the Intellectual Dark Web—Sam Harris, Eric Weinstein, Jordan Peterson, et. al. She who had not been canceled by The New York Times, but had resigned before being canceled due to her self-described “forays into Wrongthink.” She who had published Pano Kanelos’s original announcement of UATX on November 8, 2021, writing our school into being. 

Delivered with the uncanny hypersincerity of a bad actor, her speech was a jumble. On the one hand, she was careful to assert her identity: “I’m gay. I’m Jewish,” she began. On the other hand, she praised UATX for being a place “to separate identity from ideas.” On the one hand, she made good use of the freewheeling frontier imagery that is popular with techheads like Joe Lonsdale, saying that “we’re living in a time that requires new pioneers,” such as the good people who enter “the Wild West world of podcasting.” On the other, she told us that we also needed the “genuinely safe space” that UATX provides, disregarding that UATX’s Academic Programs Manager had recently promised the school would “permit no safe spaces.”

Naturally, consistency was not the aim of her remarks. The real goal of her speech was the same as that of her newspaper’s headlines: to stoke moral panic and thereby unite a reactionary coalition.  She dumped words from a rhetorical grab-bag, tossing around whatever terms might stir her young listeners. Stirred they were. As the speech concluded, the room erupted in applause.

In the ensuing Q&A, however, at least one person in the audience evinced disappointment. This student asked Bari Weiss why a school that promised “constructive debate” had failed to invite any speakers who were left-of-center. Weiss had difficulty with that one. Perhaps because it so plainly pointed to what most attendees knew but blithely kept unspoken. UATX quite clearly embraces some “truths” over others, and the discussions it fosters are like those that might take place at the Hoover Institution or a rightwing message board. There was only the most superficial range to the opinions and ideas held. Almost all the speakers droned smugly on about the same points. DEI is ruining higher education. Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies are worthless. “Gender ideology” is destroying America’s social and moral fabric. IQ is the best measure of merit. These positions have as their end the maintenance—the naturalization—of existing race and class hierarchies. Inviting speakers from the left would pose an obstacle to that naturalization.

But Weiss could not say this outright. She dodged the student’s question. Perhaps, she speculated, the left was just less interested in debate.


LITTLE about the ideas expressed at UATX was new. There was the same nostalgia for some undefined time when race was not an issue, when education was purely meritocratic, when a moral majority led the nation. There was the same invocation of “positivity” over “negativity,” the same tendency to frame criticism—of the right, of capitalism, of the country—as nihilistically divisive. There were the same specters—“east coast elites,” “liberal elites”—that Republican politicians with nice graduate degrees have conjured from the ‘60s onward. There was the same hazy invocation of “virtue” as the thing that was missing from American life.

Of what did virtue consist? Throughout the week, UATX speakers had provided some examples: mocking trans women and the value of diversity, lauding IQ as the ultimate metric, doing lip service to “debate” but failing to practice it. But the greatest models came on the last day, when Joe Lonsdale and Marc Andreessen, Zooming in from screens set up in the Debate Chamber, discussed the future of artificial intelligence.

Lonsdale helped found Palantir—a data analytics company that contracts with Amazon, ICE, and the CIA—with Peter Thiel in 2004, and he currently leads 8VC, a venture capital firm that invests in AI, defense, and biomedicine. (If it’s not already obvious, Thiel—Gen X’s very own Charles Koch—is in league with many of UATX’s members: he mentored Lonsdale, champions Hanania, and has spoken on Bari Weiss’s podcast.) Lonsdale is also one of UATX’s founders and helps fund the school. Before UATX had received official nonprofit status, it was sponsored by the Lonsdale-created Cicero Institute, a conservative thinktank that proposes “Free-market based solutions to public policy issues” (among them the criminalization of homelessness). Andreessen is an even larger tech giant. After co-designing one of the most successful early web browsers in 1992, he co-founded software company Netscape in the mid-nineties and VC firm Andreessen Horowitz in 2009. His net worth is approaching $2 billion. Last summer, Andreessen praised UATX as “a very big advance.”

Lonsdale, with furrowed brow and beady eyes, played talk show host to Andreessen, who resembles nothing so much as a hardboiled egg. The two extolled AI. “You should go through life doing the things that uniquely people can do,” Andreessen said. “Increased technology, and in particular AI, should basically actually make it possible to be more human.” Lonsdale concurred: “As technology improves we get to spend more time doing human things, doing natural things.” Here the terms “natural” and “human” were defined negatively, as whatever technology could not do. This carried the loopy implication that most of human history, which did not include robots or large language models, was less than human. Of course, Lonsdale and Andreessen’s claims expressed less sincere belief in the inherent good of AI or unending technical innovation than post hoc rationalizations for a more fundamental virtue: making a shit ton of money.


DESPITE UATX’s claims of ideological uniformity in higher ed, the regressive social politics found at the school are not much different from those you might hear as students trickle out of a data structures or financial investments class at a major university. But UATX is a “genuinely safe space,” as Weiss put it, in the sense that it isolates students from the inconvenient opposition of other peers and professors. It is a monoculture of free-market faith which provides, in the end, a venue for young people seeking success in tech and finance to network and to fortify the rightwing ideas that brought them here in the first place. On November 8, UATX announced that it had received certification from the State of Texas and would welcome its first graduating class in the fall of 2024. This month it hosted a prospective student's weekend. While the university still lacks national accreditation, which typically takes at least five years to obtain, it is now able to grant degrees. But will the university actually get off the ground? Can its rightwing summer camp actually evolve into a four-year degree? UATX is more viable than you may think. The university’s 2021 tax returns declared over $10 million in assets. This fall, Pano Kanelos stated that UATX had raised around $200 million, or 80% of the school’s $250 million fundraising goal. That number is significantly larger than the endowment of comparably small schools, like Antioch College ($49.5 million), American Baptist College, ($11.2 million), and Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts ($4.6 million).

More money has flowed into UATX since the outbreak of Israel’s assault on Gaza, attracted by the university’s overt support for Israel. Several of UATX’s founders have longstanding commitments to Zionism. Bari Weiss, in particular, has repeatedly endeavored to destroy the careers of those opposed to the Zionist project. As a student at Columbia, she attempted to label Arab professors critical of Israel racist. As a contributor to The New York Times, she falsely suggested that Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to congress, was antisemitic.

This past October, Weiss posted on Twitter, where she has over a million followers, that Palestinian writer Refaat Alareer had tweeted about the murder of an Israeli baby. (As other of Refaat’s posts make clear, the tweet in question was about the generation of false information by Zionists, not an actual case of infanticide.) In consequence, Alareer’s own Twitter inbox was flooded with death threats that same day. Just over a month later, Israeli forces killed Alareer, his brother, his sister, and three of his sister’s children, in what Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor concluded was a “deliberate and targeted” airstrike. 

Jacob Howland, UATX’s Dean of Intellectual Foundations wrote in October, “There is something absurd about the demand that Israel exercise proportionality in the face of Evil,” effectively urging on the IDF’s campaign of annihilation, which has killed an estimated 20,000 Palestinians. “We’re trying to keep the good guys armed and ahead,” Joe Lonsdale, who is on UATX’s Board of Trustees, said a few weeks later in a Fox Business segment on the Israel–Hamas war. Niall Ferguson and Teri Andresen, both on the Board of Trustees, have also voiced support for Israel’s abominable retaliation, and the latter’s Twitter is substantially devoted to doxing supporters of Palestine.

If anything is novel about UATX’s model, it is the creation of a rightwing monoculture in the form of a university, rather than a thinktank or policy institute. The university model carries certain advantages. Major investment firms and tech companies have long aimed recruiting efforts at select schools based on reputation and social connections. UATX could present rightwing business leaders with a new, particularly convenient recruitment scenario: they would know in advance the political commitments of the student body, making it that much easier to maintain a conservative culture within their companies. While blatantly reactionary universities do already exist, they tend to be religious or obscure or both. UATX replaces religion with a gospel of technocapitalism. It wards off obscurity by inviting noisy online extremists, like Hanania, and courting the favor of high-profile rich men, like Lonsdale, Andreessen, and Crow. 

For all of UATX’s supposed concern about “the culture,” the soul, the ethic of America, what at last constituted its core was this limitless faith in the goodness of the free market and entrepreneurship, of accumulating capital by endlessly making new products. Integral to this faith was a conviction about who merited such wealth and the political power that accompanied it. This who came into focus toward the close of the entrepreneurs’ talk. “There’s something very scary in our society—where this idea of a natural aristocracy,” Lonsdale said at the end, “has like really fallen out of favor.” Here it was, for a flash unconcealed by euphemism: “a natural aristocracy.”

At some level, Lonsdale—who displays the verbal intelligence of an 18-year old fratboy and who, moments later, would declare that when founding a company “you want whatever unfair advantages you can get”—doesn’t care about “natural” ability. What the author of tweets claiming “average black culture” is “broken” cares about is justifying existing economic and racial inequality and those, like himself and Andreessen, who reap massive rewards from it.

By the way, Andreessen and Lonsdale are not unlikely to reap some financial rewards from their very participation in UATX. Consider it. Andreessen and Lonsdale champion AI at UATX. Two weeks later, Bari Weiss publishes an article by Andreessen in The Free Press, “AI Will Save the World.” Wait another week or so. UATX then uploads a video recording of the Andreessen-Lonsdale talk, titling it, “Will AI Save the World?” Lonsdale posts the same video to his YouTube channel, where it gets almost 45k views, and tweets a clip from it, which gets over 700k. The upshot: a billionaire and a millionaire whose VC firms have a tremendous financial stake in AI get to widely broadcast the value of their securities. In the grand scheme of business strategy, this chain of events may be minor, but it represents just one of the many channels through which UATX’s founders and friends reinforce their wealth and influence.