Two university faculty members paraded their new pro-free speech and classical education institutions at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual summit.

Dr. Justin Buckley Dyer, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Dr. Walter V. Wendler, the president of West Texas A&M University, highlighted the developments during a four-person panel on “Winning the War on Woke” last week.

The panel also featured Dr. Michael B. Poliakoff, the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston).

Dyer is responsible for helping to found the Civitas Institute at UT Austin, which he says is committed to promoting “free and open inquiry” and “reason-based arguments.”

“We are developing this new school of civic leadership to provide an education for students on Western civilization, American constitutionalism, and the skills that they’ll need to be leaders in the 21st Century,” said Dyer.

Among the concerns Dyer emphasized was the public perception of higher education. He cited a Gallup Poll released last year showing that only 36 percent of Americans had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust in colleges and universities.

The number was even lower—19 percent—when isolated to Republicans.

“We have to do better, and we have to think about what we’re doing and how to get back to our fundamental mission.”

Dyer was recently named the official dean of UT Austin’s School of Civic Leadership, housed in the Civitas Institute. He previously served as interim dean as the school was being established.

Wendler, meanwhile, brought attention to the newly established Hill Institute at West Texas A&M. He stressed that faculty and administrators involved are united around “Panhandle values,” which are really “Texas values, and actually American values.”

“But the problem is, on university campuses, they’re getting harder and harder to find. They’re pushed into the background rather than to the foreground,” explained Wendler. “The idea, for example, of patriotism—people on university campuses don’t want to talk about patriotism anymore. And to me, it’s just crazy. It’s such an important concept.”

Dyer and Wendler agreed in a later exchange that one fundamental principle of education that is currently being drowned out is its role of making proper citizens—an idea most notably found in the works of Plato.

Wendler commented:

Fundamentally, the whole job of public higher education is to create better citizens and to create a better republic. That’s what we’re here for.

In April 2023, Wendler came under fire for barring drag shows on campus at West Texas A&M, claiming they “discriminate against womanhood.” It spawned a legal battle that ended up in federal courts, which have thus far ruled in Wendler’s favor.

“Drag shows are derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the stated intent. Such conduct runs counter to the purpose of WT,” Wendler stated when he first decided to ban them.

Elsewhere in the panel discussion, Bettencourt pledged that he and a significant cohort of Texas Republicans in the State Legislature would work towards expanding prohibitions on divisive practices like critical race theory (CRT) and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies.

“I can’t speak for everybody—I work with a company of heroes in the Texas Senate—but I know a majority of them feel very strongly about this, and we’re going to be back at it,” insisted Bettencourt.

The formal discussion was followed by a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, which included a lengthy discussion of the abdication of boards of regents regarding their responsibilities to oversee university governance.

Absent firm guidance from trustees, policy tends to default to deans, department heads, and faculty senates. Poliakoff noted that “Trustees are not there to be cheerleaders or walking piggy banks. It’s not supposed to be a cozy relationship.”

The governor appoints regents to public universities, with the Texas Senate confirming them.

Luca Cacciatore

Luca H. Cacciatore is a journalist for Texas Scorecard. He is an American Moment inaugural fellow and former welder.

Adam Cahn

Adam is a longtime conservative activist and an avid UT and Yankees fan.