Posted on July 2, 2022

How UT-Austin Administrators Destroyed an Intellectual Diversity Initiative

Richard Lowery, James G. Martin Center, July 1, 2022

By now, only the most dishonest or intentionally ignorant observers deny the existential crisis facing higher education. Universities no longer even maintain the pretense of dispassionate rational and free inquiry, focusing instead on a particularly toxic and frankly absurd form of “social-justice” activism, increasingly even in the hard sciences.

Why does this situation persist? Here, I can contribute to our understanding, having had a front-row seat to perhaps the most spectacular failure of a higher-education reform effort in recent memory: the “Liberty Institute” at the University of Texas at Austin.


Our story starts with a small group of faculty in the business school at UT-Austin, who recognized the need to push back against the growing dominance of left-wing social-justice activism on campus. One of us, Carlos Carvalho, was given an opportunity to lead a small, policy-focused center within the business school. Over a few years, we built the Salem Center for Policy into one of the most active centers on campus.

As these activities built up, we developed an increasing network of supporters who encouraged us to pursue more ambitious goals. This was the genesis of what became known as the “Liberty Institute.” We drafted a brief proposal for an independent academic unit that could house faculty with perspectives and research agendas that would disqualify them from employment elsewhere on campus.


The proposal we developed gained significant positive attention, and potential supporters reached out to UT President Jay Hartzell to express their enthusiasm. The president begrudgingly acceded to the idea of pursuing the plan.

At this point, the university, potential donors, and Professor Carvalho further developed a plan that called for an independent academic unit (thus, a college or a department) with the ability to hire tenure-track faculty. This unit would offer a significant number of classes, along with a major (Politics, Philosophy, Economics, and Evidence), a minor, and a master’s degree. We would also be tasked with significant outreach to high-school students throughout Texas.

This plan, as agreed to by the UT president and the chairman of the Board of Regents, gained support at the legislature, and funding for the project was added to the 2021 budget. {snip}


We now know that, during this time, UT’s president put a critical race theorist in charge of developing the Liberty Institute. That administrator, Richard Flores, belonged to the almost exclusively CRT-focused Mexican American Latino/Latina Studies Department. An initial attempt to place the Institute in the business school, under our far-left dean, failed when she refused to cooperate. Having previously removed from her office portraits of previous deans and of our naming benefactor, Red McCombs, because there were too many white men, she obviously did not embrace our project.


{snip} Flores’s directive, with the full support of President Hartzell, was that Carlos could proceed with the Institute only by finding people whom existing departments wanted to hire and providing those departments with the funds appropriated by the state.

This was clearly a complete default on what the university had agreed to with the legislature. The entire purpose of the project was to bring a set of ideas and approaches that existing departments filtered against because of their extreme political biases.

At this stage, Carvalho rejected the Flores plan and insisted on continuing with the one agreed to with the legislature. He then communicated what had happened to potential donors, which apparently led them to contact people in government who had backed the plan. {snip}

Here was the moment when the project could have been saved. Either the government could have come in and insisted that the original plan be followed, or potential donors could have presented a united front to demand follow-through and the creation of a meaningful institute. Instead, everyone caved completely to the university.


{snip} Ultimately, it was conservative politicians and donors, not Marxist faculty, who brought it down out of their unwillingness to confront a supposedly prestigious Texas institution.