🎒Say hi to UATX, Austin's new college
The Scarborough building at 522 Congress Ave. Source: Google Street View
- 6 min read

🎒Say hi to UATX, Austin's new college

Plus, there's a new beloved Austin Tex-Mex spot opening in Mueller ...

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Introduction

☀️ Well heyyyyy, Austin.

Today, we'll give you the low-down on a new state-accredited college in Austin that's garnered some criticism in recent years — and will have its first cohort this fall of 100 undergrads, who won't pay a dime for their four years of tuition.

Then, check out what City Council talked about yesterday, and read up on stories you shouldn't miss from this week.


College town 2.0?

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of the University of Texas at Austin AKA UT AKA home of the Longhorns AKA the heart, arguably, of Austin and a big reason why the tech space has boomed in the area over the decades?

Yeah, obviously. We all know it.

Now raise your hand if you’ve heard of the University of Austin?

Yeah, it’s def less on the radar, at least locally. It’s a private liberal arts college founded in 2021, and in October, Texas gave UATX the go-ahead to start doling out bachelor’s degrees (it may be accredited by the state, but it’s still not accredited nationally). The college will have its first undergrad class this coming fall.

The school’s MO has ruffled some feathers. Why? UATX was founded on the belief that higher education in the U.S. is broken because universities don’t talk openly about controversial topics.

In short, UATX has been dubbed by some as an “anti-woke” and “anti-cancel culture” institution. And its landing in Austin is a sign of how — just as it’s grown physically — the city’s ideological culture has shifted a tad, too.

What will the school teach?

Some areas of exploration in the curriculum listed on the UATX website — which also lists 16 faculty members — include what the consequences are of “ideological tyranny” and questions like “does death negate the meaning of life?” So deep.

Its president, Pano Kanelos, told the Texas Tribune last fall that a four-year program would include philosophy, history and literature courses for the first two years, and students wouldn’t declare a major until their third or fourth year.

Some students already got a taste of what could be offered thanks to the non-credit “Forbidden Courses” that UATX has held over the past couple of summers in *checks notes* Dallas while it waited for that degree-earning sticker of approval.

They included lectures around topics like gender politics, sex, science, religion — talks that the school’s faculty believe students are nervous to discuss at a good chunk of colleges across the nation for fear of being censored.

So what does it cost?

Well, for this fall’s 100-strong cohort of students … nothing. UATX has raked in a cool $200 million from 2,600 private individual donors, a funding pool that will provide those first-ever four-year UATX students with full $130,000 scholarships. But eventually, Kanelos said tuition would be about $32,000 a year.

He told Fortune last May, too, that about a third of the school’s donations has come from folks in the tech or venture capital space.

Who’s associated with UATX?

To name a few:

  • Founder and board member Bari Weiss, a former New York Times columnist who left in mid-2020, citing bullying from coworkers toward her and anyone whose views weren’t left-of-center.
  • Marc Andreessen, founder of famed Silicon Valley VC firm a16z, was listed as a Forbidden Courses lecturer.
  • So was Joe Lonsdale, a Silicon Valley transplant who runs the now-Austin-based firm 8VC.

But some who had originally hopped on board have since hopped off, like:

  • Robert Zimmer, the late former president of the University of Chicago, who stepped back as an adviser after disagreeing with UATX’s “quite critical” statements about higher education in general.
  • Heather Heying was a founding trustee but resigned from the board in late 2022 because, she said, UATX didn’t represent her values. She also mentioned she was seen as the “token liberal” of the school’s board.

So ... why choose Austin for a school like this?

The city has historically leaned left politically, even while sitting squarely in a blood-red state. But Austin’s existing tech community, as well as tech-minded folk who have been moving here in droves, have injected a libertarian (read: contrarian) flavor into the city.

☝️
Think of a libertarian as being pro-individual freedom and anti-government regulation or censorship.

UATX recently teamed up with Capital Factory, a startup incubator that’s been key to Austin’s tech hub identity and whose space is now “an extension of the university’s downtown campus.”

Two blocks away from Capital Factory is where UATX sits, at 522 Congress Ave.

The Scarborough building at 522 Congress Ave. Source: Google Street View

UATX plans to build a campus somewhere in the Austin area eventually.

And look, maybe we’re biased, but we doubt it could ever look as cool as St. Ed’s AKA Austin’s very own Hogwarts.

— Katie Canales, Editor


Temperature: 81 degrees | Sun: Dancing with clouds | What to Expect: Storms in evening

A cold front will move in today, which will bring some relief from the heat and humidity. But it may also bring some rain and thunderstorms along with it later in the evening. High temperatures will be near our seasonal normal.

Mary’s Tip: If you’re hitting up Austin’s Reggae Festival this weekend, you’ll need an umbrella Saturday and then a jacket on Sunday. Yep, Austin’s crazy weather is in full force.


Here's what happened at City Council this week.

The City Council passed each of the ordinances in our preview Wednesday (catch up on them here). But here are a few other proposals that were passed that you should know about:

1.

Council approved a resolution to direct the city manager to develop recommendations for a “coordinated and holistic planning, development, preservation and activation of public and private assets” in east Austin. 

Comments at council: Several speakers spoke in support of this resolution but urged the city to make sure to include more community voices in the process, in particular PODER and GAVA. Mayor Kirk Watson clarified that a late update to the ordinance included direction to engage with neighborhood and community groups, property owners and tenants, small businesses and others living in and involved with the community. 

2.

The council approved a $1.3 million contract with a nonprofit to run the Family Stabilization Grant Program, a program that first began in 2022. Roughly 100 low-income families will receive $1,000 a month for the next year. 

Further context: Meanwhile, Attorney General Ken Paxton recently sued Harris County for a similar program, arguing it is unconstitutional under state law. 

3.

Construction of the “wishbone” bridge over the east end of Lady Bird Lake will move forward after the city approved a more than $20 million contract for construction Thursday. 

More context: The project also will replace a 6-foot-wide pedestrian tunnel under Pleasant Valley Road with a 30-foot-wide tunnel with better lighting. 

4.

The council approved a resolution to explore options for a comprehensive tree inventory and establish a tree planting and maintenance plan.

Comments from council: A number of speakers also touched on this item, supporting it, but noting that the city should include trees on private property in their inventory.

The comprehensive inventory plan currently only calls for counting trees on public property.


3 stories you shouldn't miss this week

🌮 Everyone. Remain. Calm. There's a new Chuy's opening in Mueller on April 30. Are you crying with happiness? 'Cause we're crying with happiness.

🥩 The Cele Store, a Manor barbecue spot that was first established in 1891 as a saloon, is closed "until further notice." If you've seen "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or "Secondhand Lions," you'll recognize the place.

🌎 Texas Monthly profiled an Austin-based antiques dealer who has collected over 100 globes, one that even dates back to the 18th century.


🎁 Bonus Content

Today's clue is for 19 Across: the only appropriate response to "Wanna go get a pitcher of margs at Polvo's?"


Were so glad you found us. Find our bios and contact info here, or reach out at hello@austindaily.com. Behind todays send: Katie Canales, Cat DeLaura and Mary Wasson.