Many of my readers aren’t aware, but early in my (young) career I was responsible for getting a new college accredited. More specifically, as Director of Institutional Effectiveness of a small liberal arts college in South Dakota (John Witherspoon College), I was responsible for moving the institution from “Candidate” to “Accredited” status—and to do so as fast as legally possible. Despite not having experience in this field, after an incredible amount of labor, we accomplished that goal in two short years (and with rare commendations). The College was legally established in 2012, achieved Candidacy and its .edu domain in 2015, and fully accredited by 2017.
That’s about as fast as it can be done in today’s world (when all the pieces are in place!). And if you reach the finished line at all, consider yourself fortunate.
A college getting accredited is like a person getting a Ph.D., only about 10x more work and money. It takes about 5-10 years, and many of the schools that try never finish. It’s also expensive for endless reasons I won’t get into, and may leave the institution in debt, just like graduate schools leave students in debt.
All accreditors (whether regional or national, though this distinction is now defunct) have some of the same requirements for achieving full accreditation. It is a long, complicated, formal process that simply cannot be rushed, and no amount of money will make it go faster than is possible. The main reasons accreditation cannot be rushed are:
- The school has to prove that it has a functional system of self-assessment, and that means collecting long-term data (about everything—its own program goals, students, academic performance and retention, etc.). Building a comprehensive system of self-assessment is complicated, and the data cannot be easily fabricated even if you tried.
- The school has to have graduates to be eligible for accreditation, and no school can graduate students (i.e., give them a degree) without them first having taken several years of coursework. (Tip: you can speed this one up by graduating AA students instead of BA, since AA is only 2 years and BA grads take 4 years). Yes, this creates a tricky problem: students don’t want to attend a non-accredited institution (because it won’t be recognized by other schools or employers), but that is precisely what is required for the institution to be accredited. Finding students for an existing school is becoming harder and harder. Finding students for a new school is even harder still.
- The accreditor evaluates schools on an annual basis and long-term cycle. Paperwork and data can’t be sent in and approved on the school’s schedule, but on the accreditor’s schedule. And the accreditors only meet once or twice a year to approve big decisions. (And it takes a long time just to get on their schedule). And there are always lots of hiccups along the way that delays documentation and approval until the next cycle.
The University of Austin (UATX) is a proposal that aspires to become a fully-fledged university. To what end? As far as I can tell, it aims to basically be a safe-space for conservatives—create an “anti-woke” campus, a place where bathrooms are binary and being explicitly racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and Eurocentric is normalized and accepted by professors like the golden years of higher education. The founders don’t like current universities—including entire fields of social science, and want to offer an alternative.
Ironic enough, that is exactly why John Witherspoon College was founded: to get back to the good ole’ days of Yale and Harvard before they “went liberal.” It was a “classics college,” modeled after New Saint Andrews in Moscow Idaho, similar to Patrick Henry College and Hillsdale College in that respect. More ironic, is that the President of John Witherspoon College fired me as an Associate Professor in 2018 explicitly because of my publications that were critical of patriarchy and sexism. So much for “free speech” and “academic freedom”!
I suspect it will be no different on the campus of UATX, if it even gets off the ground. Amazingly, before the institution has even been legally filed, several founding board members have already resigned (within weeks of its public announcement, in fact). That history is already sitting on the school’s Wikipedia page, and it doesn’t bode well. Institutions like JWC, HDC, PHC, NSA, and UATX are even worse ideological echo-chambers than the public and private institutions they’re trying to compete with. Smaller liberal arts schools can exacerbate that problem.
I confess, however, that I have a soft spot in my heart for small liberal arts colleges. I think there should be more and if I had kids, it’s where I would send them. But the economics of education is difficult in a very capitalist country, because the whole idea of education is about soul, mind, and body formation, not job training in order to become a faithful producer/consumer. This is something even the founders of UATX seem to understand: ideas and critical thinking and methodology and the humanities matter. It’s just unfortunate that their millions in advance donations are going towards the very opposite of education, which is explicitly backwards-looking, neofascist indoctrination. (The same fans of UATX are proposing to ban the words “patriarchy” and “social justice” from schools altogether. This isn’t a joke, and it is very revealing—for those who somehow missed the signals, signs, blaring horns, insurrections, and last few years of social existence pointing to this problem. Consider also reading How Fascism Works, Jesus and John Wayne, Taking Back America for God, and Democracy for the Few).
In short, I don’t think UATX will get very far. Being anti-progressive is not sound enough a foundation to build a real university. There has to be a bigger vision that encompasses not only the good things of the past but the uncertainties, hopes, and anxieties of the future.
Not to mention a real engagement with the immediate problems of the present: fascism, gender-based violence, corporate-funded wars, economic exploitation, systemic racism, child poverty, environmental catastrophe, etc. That’s not, however, what UATX seems to be interested in or oriented around studying.
I close with five simple questions for UATX faculty or admin:
- Will Sociology be offered at UATX, and what textbooks will be permitted?
- Will people be allowed to use a bathroom that corresponds to their self-designated gender?
- Will ethnicity be a factor in admissions and scholarships?
- Will UATX allow professors to criticize the Israeli occupation of Palestine in their courses without fear of discipline?
- Will UATX be allowed to teach American history in a way that is critical of racism, and teach economic history from a perspective that is not centered on Europe?
Appendix: Banned Books from UATX’s Future Campus
James Blaut, The Colonizer’s Model of the World
Michael Parenti, Democracy of the Few
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States
Rosemarie Tong and Tina Fernandez Botts, Feminist Thought
Rashid Khalidi, The Hundred Years War on Palestine
Kate Lister, A Curious History of Sex
Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning