The “University of Austin” Grift Isn’t New

“Ralston College” did it first

L.D. Burnett
2 min readNov 9, 2021


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Academic twitter is having a field day mocking the grandiose announcement, via Bari Weiss’s substack, of the formation of a new “university” whose raison d’etre will be to stand against “woke mobs,” “cancel culture,” and whatever other gimmicky jargon its “founding faculty” can use to signal their utter panic that higher education is no longer solely for, nor shaped solely by, rich white people.

The “university,” which at this point pretty much exists only on twitter, is calling itself University of Austin (because Austin College, an actual outstanding liberal arts college in Sherman, Texas, was already taken).

The university’s founding luminaries, which include the likes of Steven Pinker and Niall Ferguson and some substack writers, are hoping that their donor base will forget the existence of a similar venture, a shadow college that exists only on paper, Ralston College.

“Founded” in 2010—which I think just means they bought a web domain, but I can’t say for sure—Ralston College still has not enrolled a class of students here in the year of our laughter 2021. I only knew it existed because Roger Kimball, who gets a footnote in my book-in-progress, is listed on its Board of Visitors, along with Jordan Peterson and some D-list conservative “intellectuals” I would have to google.

As far as I can tell, Ralston College exists so its board of visitors can say they are on the board of visitors for a college, and so some donor somewhere can give them some money for whatever it is they don’t do.

You can read about Ralston College at the bottom of the Wikipedia page of its founder, whose public intellectual bona fides consist of a single op ed published in the Wall Street Journal. Even I can do better than that.

Anyhow, conservatives / libertarians / wannabe culture warriors gathering together and announcing that they have had it with higher education because it no longer caters to their every whim to the degree that it once did is not new.

This “university” is getting more media attention than Ralston College did, so maybe the founding bloggers will be able to make some money off of it. And you never know: Elon Musk might pony up and buy the old St. Edwards campus so that these towering minds can do their Hogwarts for Bigots cosplay in a more picturesque setting than the bottom of someone’s wikipedia page.

But I fully expect “University of Austin” to have a slightly longer, but in the end no more impressive, run than Ralston College as a conservative talking point / fundraising venture / line on the CV of people who want all the trappings of the life of the mind without actually having to think.



L.D. Burnett

Writer and historian from / in California’s Great Central Valley. Book, “Western Civilization: The History of an American Idea,” under contract w/ UNC Press.