Last Monday, the peripatetic millennial journalist and gadfly opinion machine Bari Weiss announced the formation of the University of Austin, a not-yet-accredited college focused on free speech. On an intellectual level, it all made perfect sense. Ever since her days at Columbia, where she accused the school of hiring anti-Semitic professors, the conservative public intellectual has famously clashed with accused leftists on whatever public platform she’s assumed. Weiss was an iconoclast at not only the right-leaning editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, but also a real home wrecker on the staid 14th floor of The New York Times. Hired by former editorial page editor James Bennet to intellectually stimulate and provoke, Weiss’ brand of commentary agitated Times readers and colleagues. She is perhaps best known for her noisy departure from the op-ed page, in 2020, a saga in which she accused the paper of slanted coverage, the newsroom of political groupthink, and her colleagues of waging a secret bullying campaign against her.
Due to her frequently viral indignance, Weiss became the vanguard of a group of famously and equally “cancelled” public intellectuals and their sympathizers. Yet ostracism, it seemed, had its perks. Her current perch on Substack, named Common Sense, generates in the neighborhood of $1 million annually. And as Vanity Fair has noted, she is already a fixture on the paid speaking circuit. Naturally, the University of Austin benefited from a Bari Weiss bump. Some 12 hours after Weiss announced the names of some of the University’s affiliates—luminaries like Larry Summers, academics like Steven Pinker, journalists like Andrew Sullivan and Caitlin Flanagan, artists like David Mamet, and a host of other names one can read here—I was told by a founding member that 900 academics had reached out to enquire about joining.