Carlos Carvalho, a statistics professor at UT Austin, drafted the original proposal in his office with other faculty members and supporters of the Salem Center for Policy Events, a center of the McCombs Business School that focuses on free-market policy.
The legislature agreed to the proposal and allotted $6 million to the “University Of Texas At Austin Liberty Institute” in the state’s final 2021 budget. Republican Lt. Governor Dan Patrick played a major role in shepherding the project through the legislature, faculty members say, and has repeatedly and publicly voiced support for the endeavor.
In a remark that would later spark controversy at successive faculty council meetings, Patrick touted the institute as an antidote to the “poison” of critical race theory in Texas public education.
“I will not stand by and let looney Marxist UT professors poison the minds of young students with Critical Race Theory. We banned it in publicly funded K-12 and we will ban it in publicly funded higher ed. That’s why we created the Liberty Institute at UT,” Patrick wrote.
Carvalho says he and other members envisioned a home for politically heterodox academics, similar to Stanford’s Hoover Institution, but with its own tenured faculty, courses, and degree programs. The draft proposal for the institute, which envisions programming dedicated to classical education and exploration of “the moral, ethical, philosophical and historical foundations underpinning a free society,” is included below.
Although he conceived the idea with other faculty, Carvalho was gradually removed from the committees steering the institute.
Additionally, UT President Jay Hartzell has told faculty that the institute will not hire faculty independently — removing a provision that Carvalho and other founders called absolutely necessary to make the institute a home for heterodox thinkers.
In faculty council meetings, Hartzell has said that other institutes and centers around campus do not have the power to hire staff independently.
“This institute or center, or whatever ends up being named, is going to conform with the way we run centers and institutes at the University of Texas at Austin. Centers and institutes don’t, for example, appoint tenured faculty,” Hartzell said at a March faculty council meeting.
However, according to Carvalho, the lack of independent hiring inevitably guts the idea.
“Once the legislature approved the creation of the institute and supported it financially, when it came time to implementation, the president of the university decided not to follow through with what was written in that paper,” Carvalho claims.
Without independent hiring, the task of choosing faculty falls not to the group of professors that proposed the idea originally but instead to the existing university system, which Carvalho calls “antagonistic” to the ideas the institute would be meant to explore.
“There’s one thing, one key provision that makes or breaks this institution. The provision is the independence of hiring. So, hiring in particular what’s called in the university tenured track faculty… And the people that were invested in creating this institution would be the ones essentially choosing who to hire,” Carvalho said.
“And the reason why that’s important is because every department on campus has their own agenda — things they want to do, things they want to hire — and they have shown through the years that they don’t want to hire in this direction. The intellectual imbalance you have on campus is a result of their actions through the years.”
When asked to provide an example of pervasive “antagonism” towards free-market ideals on UT’s campus, Carvalho said the university hosts multiple courses that require engagement with Karl Marx but no history of economics course that would require engagement with Adam Smith.
Though the idea spawned in Carvalho’s office, different faculty involved in the institute credit Patrick with pushing the idea through the state legislature. The idea of a Hoover-style center in Texas dovetailed smoothly with Patrick’s critiques of UT for left-wing homogeneity.
However, the same motive seems to have driven Patrick to pivot to a new policy goal: eliminating tenure at public universities in Texas.
At the press conference where he unveiled this policy plan, Patrick cited the remarks of Richard Lowery, a UT professor who made headlines for excoriating the university’s resolution in support of teaching critical race theory at a February faculty council meeting.
Lowery, who worked closely with Carvalho to draft the original institute proposal, said the institute is currently at a standstill.
“It’s a total failure. They reneged on anything that would be needed to make it independent and functional and they’re just pushing through a plan where existing departments get to use the money, and they’re bringing in someone who I’m pretty sure has just agreed to go along with the plan,” Lowery said, referring to a University of Missouri professor named Justin Dyer whom UT leaders have eyed as a top candidate to lead the institute.
“They’re going to make it look like something’s happening, but nothing along the lines of what we had in mind, of what we envisioned or what the state thought they were getting when the university agreed to it, is ever going to happen.”
Although Lowery and Patrick alike bemoan the political state of the university, Lowery says Patrick has not contacted the original faculty or made efforts to jump-start the stalled project.
“My understanding is that whoever the lieutenant governor’s been talking to has been telling him that everything’s been going to plan. And I don’t know who he’s been talking to to get that impression, but that’s what I heard,” Lowery said.
“He’s never reached out to me or Carlos or any of the people who originally were pushing this.”
Patrick’s office did not respond for comment.
Lowery suggested Dyer’s existing relationships with UT leadership influenced his hiring. Carvalho only said the administration’s search for an institute director seems hurried in light of efforts he and the original faculty made to contact academics at Stanford University, the University of Chicago, and other elite institutions about the job.
“I think UT’s a place that has the ability to aim at top talent. And we had many conversations with lots of people in top places,” Carvalho said.
“This was not something that was widely advertised… I don’t believe the search was done in a way that was — I don’t understand exactly why it was done this way. I think it was rushed. It did not involve the people that were in the initial stages of the institute.”
Lowery agreed with Carvalho that the lack of independent hiring will result in faculty that align with the dominant political thinking of the university, undercutting the institute’s core purpose.
“There’s just no way you could bring in anybody who actually has views that really bring new ideas to campus. Because existing departments aren’t going to go along with hiring somebody who has views sufficiently outside of the mainstream to make it different,” Lowery said.
“Without the ability to have an independent group making independent decisions on hiring, there’s no way they’ll bring in anyone remotely interesting.”
Hartzell’s Deputy for Academic Priorities is Richard Flores, a professor in the Mexican American & Latina/o Studies department. In this role, Flores, a critical theorist, has a major seat at the helm of the project.
Lowery called Flores hostile to the institute’s core idea. Flores did not respond for comment.
Departments like Flores’s have the ability to hire independently, Carvalho says, for the purpose of bringing underrepresented faculty to the university. The same principle is not being applied to the Liberty Institute, he adds.
“The reason why we have an African Diaspora Studies Department, or Mexican-American Studies, a lot of departments that were created, [is] because it was felt that there was a need for providing a home for those ideas, ideas that came from sociology, from history, from economics. So there was an understanding there was a need for a new home for those ideas, and that’s why those departments were created. And a lot of those departments, they flourished; they have students and programs and so on. So we’re actually trying to emulate something like that,” Carvalho said.
“So that provision, to me, is key for the success of the institute, and that provision was the place where there was a big disagreement, when it came to implementation, between the administration and us that proposed the institute.”
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