More substantive change is needed in academia
I think that UATX looks too much like "revenge of the canceled" as opposed to an attempt to build an exemplary educational experience. We need to try new ideas and discover which ones work best. You have some promising ideas. I have some promising ideas. Others have promising ideas. I agree that UATX is missing the opportunity to be a bold experiment and instead seems to be building something adjacent to what already exists.
I am comfortably retired, and have never spent much time thinking about how my life would be different if my choices had been different. Would you even WANT to change the past without KNOWING how that change would affect your present? But that said, my brief college experience convinced me that the "university track" was not for me. I needed money! And quickly, much quicker than any four year program provided. I have taken several trades vocational training courses over the years, learned numerous skills that I could immediately make coin from and did so, but more than anything else taught me without indoctrinating me. There simply is no time to indoctrinate nor teach a student "how to think, how to learn". Which for someone like me was a welcome relief from the indoctrination and socialization of elementary-high schools. I have become a big fan of Mike Rowe and his push to get more students into vocational training. Academe is not the most comfortable place for many of us, and it's a shame that vocational training is considered to be training for those too dumb to take a college curriculum. So the question is "Do you want to spend years in a university program to get your dream job? Or would you rather have a good, steady income so that you can live out your dreams in your leisure?".
What a dream it would be, to teach or learn in the university that you imagine. This is my favourite passage:
"Rather, the scientific thinking that is critical for educated people to engage in includes observation, pattern recognition, recognition of bias and assumption, hypothesis generation, and experimental design, even if just at the theoretical level."
I despise what is happening in education, at all levels (I'm exposed to all of them). Cookie-cutter, simplistic solutions to complex problems are being indoctrinated by some systems into the minds of our youngest. E.g., Solar panel and EVs will save the planet. I'm seeing this creep into the post-secondary level too. In BC, a prof lost her position for writing, based on her research, that (gasp) the polar bears are all right. This culture of "feelings over facts" and/or, if the facts don't support the narrative, destroy the facts, is ruining education.
As a self-diagnosed person who is NOT a "math person", your words rang true and deep. A long, long time ago, when I was in 9th grade algebra, seeking after school help with the class, during the first week, I was told, "You just ask too many questions." I was then put in a class called Math Fundamentals, which was taught by Coach Henderson, and consisted of me and many who were on the freshman and sophomore football team; I was the only female in the room. I learned quickly that what was being taught in this class was addition, subtraction, and division; these are all things I already knew and did not struggle with. I decided to never attend this class again.
Fast forward, I landed a position at a community college where I taught developmental reading and English year round for eight years. I worked with adults who "graduated" from high school, but who were anywhere from a first to lower ninth grade reading level. All of my classes were full every semester, and sometimes another class was added to my schedule so as to take in the overflow. Without knowing it at the time, my approach to teaching and learning, and in co-creating an environment in which both of these things took place, followed exactly what you wrote about, "The rigorous, difficult and uncomfortable, and also joyous, exploratory, and serendipitous, education of undergraduates..." I, knew something real; I believed in the humanity of my students, and I had a curricular structure that provided time, space, and freedom. My students not only learned that the reading process is a "thinking" process, but more importantly they became fearlessly courageous when it came to learning; they became unafraid to ask questions and question the answers.
This saddens me greatly. Every time I hear you or Bret talk about your time at Evergreen, I would imagine what an awesome thing that would be for my children to experience, rather than just conventional university. And I would mourn the loss of even one such place that I could send them to one day.
I had hoped that the University of Austin would be that (it will start bringing in undergraduates just in time when my oldest will be of age to go). It sounds like it will be better than most other universities, which is great, but that's not what I had yearned for.
This reminds me of the difference between conventional farming, organic farming that's exactly like conventional, but with different stuff that gets sprayed, and regenerative farming.
I am an academic in exile and I want to join with you and Brett somehow. I share both your epistemological and ontological positionalities and desperately want to help restore academe to the promising guild structure, world of the mind, cooperative learning environment that it once was and could be again. My areas of expertise are in the humanities, but I am fully on board with your philosophy of science. Your prescriptions are right on! Please consider contacting me.
Linda Welker, Ph.D.
I am sorry to read this, I was excited about UATX and found it to be inspirational in my own endeavors. I have drafted a proposal for a new type of high school based on ideas from Bret and yourself, Jordan Peterson, John Gatto, my own experiences in the Air Force, etc., that I think addresses a lot of the issues presented in your resignation letter. I have presented the idea to quite a few people here locally (Evansville, IN) and there seems to be a lot of interest in it. I will keep this letter in mind as it moves forward.
Wow, that must have been hard, but I find myself in complete (almost) agreement with your thoughts. Prepare for the inevitable "well, change it from the inside" sentiments, but honestly, I admire your willingness and intensity in discovering solutions and developing your own endeavors.
Courageous, and you continue to inspire!
My curiosity and inquiry led me down the unexpected path of unschooling. My degree in education and special education, and my constant critique of it, led me to home schooling then unschooling as described by John Holt for my own kids. I see the parallels with what you describe. Unschooling was a “fly by the seat of my pants” education for me in the 90’s stemming from my constant rebuttal of what I saw offered to my kids in school. It was based first on a NO, “I’m not doing that or forcing my kids to,” more than anything I knew to do differently other than free them from their desks and allow them access again to the outside, and fort building, and woods explorations, and play time more than seat time. Later I saw it more as the protection of their free mind and natural curiosity. And a fostering of their ability to question and discern, not intimidated by experts who do not deserve the title. Concerned me greatly that the obvious collective outcome for students with an education that did not allow this would lead to a time when we would need to stand up and could not. I read it like the dystopian novels my kids loved to read then. Here we are. I love your vision and respect very much your decision. Thank you for sharing with us why you are opting out of a vision that is, maybe good, but certainly not good enough for the times.
Disappointed in UATX. I had high hopes that it was the beginning of a shift towards real change in our education system. I have the utmost respect for you Heather. Your integrity is admirable as is your dedication to making a systemic shift in our society at large. Thank you for your insightful, often touching, writings and podcasts. I have learned so much from you and words fail to anmply express my gratitude.
You are a beacon of light during this often dark time.
Peace & Blessings to you, Bret, & your Family~
Wrong time to do something right. Anyway you and Brett remain our North star and thank you for that.
I am sorry to hear about your resignation. I wish you well in your next endeavor. I am a retired teacher, and spent 30 years frustrated by teachers who ignore the very clear scientific data on the way children learn to read. They teach based on how they “feel” and how they think children “feel.” Then when students can’t master a skill based on the method
they chose, they decide that skill doesn’t matter. It is very clear to me why students entering college lack the foundational skills and knowledge needed for a rigorous course of study.
I remember you mentioning UATX many podcasts back, and it's a shame that the end result was similar to other universities.
It's only after coming out of college and having that hindsight did I realize how much I didn't learn outside of rote memorization. I think the best example is thinking back to the classes and understanding what I took away, or why I still remember certain aspects. The classes that required rote memorization have been completely lost to me. The ones that applied critical thinking and pattern recognition still persist.
I think there's an inherent issue when many students, including myself, who wanted to go into research showed absolute contempt for taking and lab classes. It was avoided at all cost aside from the minimum courses. Many premed students didn't want to take an additional Calculus course or any more natural/physical science courses than was needed. It's not too surprising when you realize that many doctors will prescribe medications now without really understanding the underlying pharmacology that explains the mechanisms.
And I've witnessed many research professors who couldn't be bothered to teach a class and found it to be a huge hindrance. I know of this because these select few have outright stated disdain for having to teach us.
If you haven't seen it yet this piece posted on Pierre Kory's Substack, which was written by A Midwestern Doctor, highlights some of the failures in education also:
One comment he makes that is really interesting is the fact that many people who go onto teaching in public schools may be reflective of those who were able to benefit from this style of pedagogy, while those who didn't wouldn't want to bother.
When looking at what it means to be the ideal university, it's more than looking at what the others failed at and not just doing that, but figuring out how to actually teach in a way that empowers and further incentivizes this want of learning.
I've tried to make my Substack educational and informative, but often times I think it becomes a serious uphill battle given how entrenched in certain thinking styles one can become.
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
The university system has been fatally corrupted by Federal grant money - there is no hope for those that drink from that cup.