Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

UT’s newest school politicizes higher education

Quinn McGuinness

In March, UT appointed Justin Dyer dean of the School of Civic Leadership, a recently developed school born out of the controversial Liberty Institute. The Institute’s beginnings, originally developed and funded by conservative Texas donors and lawmakers, have caused concern among the UT community. 

While the school claims to teach freethinking and foster debate among its student body, its ties to conservative legislators reveal its main issue: its vast political overreach. In addition to attacking faculty tenure and banning diversity, equity and inclusion practices, the School of Civic Leadership’s installation is another example of the legislative attack on higher education in Texas.

Stuart Reichler, a professor in the College of Natural Sciences and member of the Faculty Council, elaborates on this overreach.

For political officeholders in the state of Texas to try to use their power and influence to change what’s happening at the University is really dangerous,” Reichler said.

The School of Civic Leadership was created from the initial idea of a think tank proposed by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, originally named the Liberty Institute. Patrick’s vision was for the institute to bring “intellectual diversity” to the University. 

Patrick’s disdain for UT’s current political environment is hard to ignore. He has openly spoken out against inclusive educational practices such as DEI and critical race theory. In 2022, he called UT’s faculty “a bunch of loony Marxist professors” in a Tweet about the creation of the Liberty Institute. Given Patrick’s clear ideals and involvement in the School of Civic Leadership, it is difficult to envision the school’s future as anything but an attempt by the Texas government to politicize higher education, all while forbidding any discussion that doesn’t align with their politics.

In an attempt to promote diverse perspectives to the University, Reichler said Texas lawmakers have done the opposite.

“Not just trying to get this Liberty Institute formed, but forbidding DEI, forbidding (critical race theory) … they’ve come in and been like, ‘Okay, you can’t teach these things,’” Reichler said. “They want not to do some things and have the institution do other things, at the same time talking about the importance of academic freedom, and it just doesn’t seem to add up.”

Documents obtained by the Texas Tribune revealed that conservative UT donors, including Kevin Eltife, UT System Board of Regents Chair and former Republican state senator, aided the institute’s creation. 

Despite the legislative and financial support, the Liberty Institute failed to launch. It was later renamed the Civitas Institute, and the School of Civic Leadership was born, built off the Institutes’ ideas and funded by conservative lawmakers and the UT System Board of Regents.

David DeMatthews, a professor at the School of Education and a member of the Faculty Council, discussed his worries about the institute.

The origins of why this school is needed are false narratives … that UT is not a place where there’s a free exchange of ideas and a free expression of ideas,” DeMatthews said. “I don’t believe that was true in the first place.”

Ryan Streeter, the executive director of the Civitas Institute, told the Austin Chronicle that the school’s research will not be political. However, the school’s vast connections to powerful conservatives calls the possibility of this statement into question. A school proposed, passed and funded by right-wing donors and politicians runs a high risk of implementing those ideals into its research and curriculum.

You can’t ignore the larger political environment in which this was proposed,” DeMatthews said. “It’s coming amid a very polarizing, divisive time in our politics where we increasingly see our state government pushing into how the University operates.”

The School of Civic Leadership’s establishment highlights a larger legislative culture war on higher education institutions in Texas. For UT to ensure the integrity of its academic principles, it must fight against lawmakers’ visions for the school and against the politicization of education.


Saunders is a journalism and government freshman from Wheaton, Illinois.

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