Civitas Institute, formerly Liberty Institute, hires executive director Justin Dyer

Leila Saidane, News Reporter

UT’s Civitas Institute, formerly known as the Liberty Institute, named alumnus Justin Dyer as its executive director Monday.

The conservative-backed institute aims to teach the American values of “constitutionalism, limited government, free enterprise and markets and individual liberty,” according to a news release from Monday. UT plans to hire three to five new faculty members to lead and build the institute along with some current faculty members. 

Dyer will also join the government department as a professor, where he earned his doctorate. Before accepting the executive director position, Dyer worked as the founding director of the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri. 

“I am thrilled to return to The University of Texas to be part of this new and important endeavor,” Dyer said. “By bringing together some of the world’s best scholars across these related disciplines, the Civitas Institute will provide opportunities for the next generation of civic leaders to carefully and critically examine the ideas, institutions and economic principles that undergird a free society.”

The Texas Legislature approved $6 million for the creation of the institute last year, according to previous reporting by The Daily Texan. Student Government and the UT Senate of College Councils, along with other student organizations, called for University President Jay Hartzell to rescind his support of the legislature’s bill to allocate the funds for the institute.  

Dyer’s specific plans for the institute are unknown, but, according to the news release, the institute “plans to create unique, world-class academic programs, collaborate with other units to provide new opportunities for students, help recruit new faculty members to the university, and support faculty and student scholarship.” 

“(Dyer’s) deep expertise in American political thought, coupled with his leadership experience, integrity and proven ability to work with others across a university campus, all make him an exceptional choice to build this exciting institute here,” Hartzell said. 

The professors who initially proposed creating the institute were frustrated with its direction and unhappy with the hiring process, according to The Texas Tribune

“Justin (Dyer) is a good guy, but I don’t think he has the needed prominence to make this institution a reality,” statistics professor Carlos Carvalho said in an email to another professor obtained by The Tribune. “I am also very disappointed by the lack of a proper national search for a director. We could have done a lot better!! Jay Hartzell likes people he can control, not top scholars!”

UT spokespeople declined to comment for this story and referred all requests to the news release. 

The University selected the name Civitas Institute due to the University’s motto “Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis,” meaning “the cultivated mind is the guardian of democracy.” The former working name, the Liberty Institute, is trademarked by the First Liberty Institute, a Christian conservative legal organization in Plano, Texas. The Civitas Institute is also the name of a conservative think tank in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

The institute is modeled after the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the philosophy, politics and economics department at Oxford University.