May 9, 2023

Austin's Next Innovation Hub: The Vision Behind the University of Austin with Pano Kanelos

Austin's Next Innovation Hub: The Vision Behind the University of Austin with Pano Kanelos
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The University of Austin is a new and promising institution set to open its doors to full time students in just over a year. The university is the brainchild of a few individuals who believe that an institution based on a new model is necessary. The school is committed to freedom of inquiry, a core tenet of any great university, that allows for the pursuit of truth. Today’s guest is the founding president, Pano Kanelos, a distinguished academic that had a successful tenure at St. John's College. We discuss the university mission, building new institutions, and how they fit within Austin’s education and innovation ecosystems.

Episode Highlights

  • The University of Austin aims to become a new center for innovation and academic freedom in the city.
  • UATX aspires to become the "Stanford to Berkeley" for Austin, complementing the University of Texas.
  • By working closely with industry leaders, the university seeks to co-develop programs, offer internships, and provide support for student-led projects.
  • The Polaris Project emphasizes real-world application and impact on pressing global problems, while fostering interdisciplinary collaboration among students.
  • They want to inspire new institutions around the world by proving that it’s possible to build a new university today
  • What’s next Austin? “A dozen years from now, there is a thriving campus in the Austin area that is attracting scholars, practitioners, and young people from across the country and across the world who are building things that we haven't yet dreamed of.”

Episode links

University of Austin:Website,Twitter,LinkedIn



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Our music is “Tech Talk” by Kevin MacLeod. Licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 License


[00:00:00] Michael Scharf: It's rare that a new four-year university is started anywhere, but not long ago, a few individuals decided that a new university based on an old model was needed. and thus the University of Austin was born. Today, they're just about a year away from opening their doors to their first undergraduate students. [00:00:19] Michael Scharf: Here's a little background on the university. The University of Austin is committed to freedom of inquiry as the pre-condition for the pursuit of truth. Others have abandoned this core mission of the university. It will be the very foundation of our school and the reason we believe the most curious, innovative scholars and students will want to join us. [00:00:42] Michael Scharf: A bold statement, and it comes from their president, Pano Kanelos. Pano is the founding president of the University of Austin. Prior to his new appointment, he served as the President of St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. During his tenure, St. John's successfully launched a historic initiative that included the most significant tuition reduction at any American college. [00:01:06] Michael Scharf: Pano holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, a Master's from Boston University, and he spent his undergraduate time at my alma mater, Northwestern University. Pano, good morning and welcome to Austin Next. [00:01:18] Pano Kanelos: Good morning. Thanks for having me. [00:01:22] Michael Scharf: We've heard the story a couple of times, but I would love for you to take a moment and tell us the origin story for the University of Austin. [00:01:30] Pano Kanelos: Of course, it's always fun to relate it because it feels like a university origin story should be back in the deep midst of history, and ours is only about a year and a half old at this point, so it's still very fresh. But how about, actually, it's coming up in two years, but the project really took off. [00:01:46] Pano Kanelos: The initial conversations for the project took off in the spring of 2021. At the time I was president of a small but historic liberal arts college in Annapolis, Maryland called St. John's College. Actually, the third oldest college in America. It was founded in 1696. So I have the privilege of having been president of the third oldest college in America and now president of America's newest university, which is fun. [00:02:11] Pano Kanelos: But back in the spring of 21, there was a group of us who were thinking a lot about, let's say, intersecting crises in higher education. We're coming out of Covid and we're looking at what's happening in higher education. We're seeing things like a million-plus student dropoff in terms of enrollments in higher education and the level of satisfaction with higher education is dramatically decreasing at that time and continues to decrease. [00:02:39] Pano Kanelos: It just seems to be a lot of, as my aunt Joanne would say, a lot of agita around what's going on in higher education. And so there was kind of a group of us who were just, let's call it a brain trust of people, including Niall Ferguson, Barri Weiss, Arthur Brooks, Joe Lonsdale here in Austin, and a few others who were noodling over the question of whether or not higher education needed to be renewed from inside existing institutions. [00:03:03] Pano Kanelos: Or whether or not an institution would spark a potential renewal of higher education. So we had these conversations. I loved my job. I was at a wonderful little place in beautiful Annapolis, Maryland. One day finally, Bari Weiss and I were having a one-on-one call and she's like, “We just need to open the new university.” [00:03:27] Pano Kanelos: “It's time. There's so many things that could be solved if we approach this issue in a new and fresh way.” And I said, “Great, Bari, I'm totally with you. I'm on board. Happy to serve on the advisory board. You let me know what's gonna happen.” And she's like, “No. And you have to be president of this institution.” [00:03:44] Pano Kanelos: And I'm like, “Come on, Bari. I got a job. I got a family. How much money it would take? And she's like, “No, you need to do this because all the problems in higher education are your fault.” And I thought, “What are you talking about?” [00:04:01] Pano Kanelos: I'm like, “Bari, I thought, I thought I was one of the good guys. I thought you were talking to me because I was on the right side of these ideas?” And she's like, “Look, you spent your whole career in higher education. You've been a professor, a dean, a college president. You know where the fault lines are. You know what the problems are.” [00:04:17] Pano Kanelos: “And if people like you don't step up and do something about higher education today, who's going to do that? Who's gonna step into the breach?” And I was somebody who was, my life was literally transformed by access to university. I come from a Greek immigrant family. Neither of my parents had much formal education. [00:04:41] Pano Kanelos: I was the first in not only our immediate family but our extended family to go to a university. University has really transformed my life. I went from the back of a Greek diner to being a college president, and so I understand how important and transformative university education should be, and so really struck me. [00:04:59] Pano Kanelos: I'm like, I think I do have a responsibility to do more than I was doing at the time, even though I was part of a kind of wonderful institution. And so I agreed to jump into this and so she's like, “Well, there's this guy in Austin we need to talk to called Joe Lonsdale who had some ideas about why Austin should be a place where this would fit.” [00:05:19] Pano Kanelos: And so I flew down, end of May, and a group of us met in Austin. And by July, I had moved here. [00:05:26] Michael Scharf: So it's obvious that you're looking at the educational marketplace in a big and bold, very different way. What are some of the innovations that you guys, you and your team there at the University of Austin, see bringing to the university? [00:05:43] Michael Scharf: What's new about the University of Austin? [00:05:46] Pano Kanelos: I would say, again, starting from the ground up, when you begin a university, you get to question every established premise. Every orthodoxy thinks afresh about what a university should be. In the US, we haven't really seen anything new in higher education, significantly new in about 130 years, to be honest. [00:06:06] Pano Kanelos: The last great flowering of institutional development in the United States was the turn of the 19th and 20th century where you saw—you know this—the rise of what we now think of as research universities. Places like University of Chicago or Johns Hopkins, Stanford, that were adopting a new model for higher education, which was sort of German-centered research model, which said that, universities are not just meant to be finishing schools for the upper class, but that there might really to be engines of intellectual dynamism. And at that point, we saw things introduced like majors and research programs in that. [00:06:46] Pano Kanelos: But nothing's really changed in higher education since then. We haven't really shaken it up in any significant way, and it feels like this is a time where we can significantly re-envision what it is that we do in higher education. And one of our missions is to kind of be a spark for that kind of change. [00:07:04] Pano Kanelos: We live in a world, you think about how different just the experience of learning is today with the technologies we have at hand or the swimming in the middle of liquid modernity where everything is dynamic and fluid and constantly changing. And then we have these institutions that are in many ways static. [00:07:21] Pano Kanelos: I always say it's ironic that we say that you're gonna send a young person for a four-year undergraduate degree to prepare them for the rest of their lives. And yet they're taught by people who never left a university. And again, I'm just as guilty as anybody. [00:07:37] Pano Kanelos: I've spent my career in university, so there's sort some sort irony there. So I'll give you one example of how we're rethinking higher education. Right now, universities are essentially 120 credit delivery systems. We are mandated to have a four-year undergraduate program that delivers 120 credits. [00:08:00] Pano Kanelos: Now you might stretch that into five or squeeze it into less, but the basic format is there, and I personally think that that's too long. I think given, let's say, the financial crisis of higher education, education becomes so expensive that if we can find a way to deliver a high quality undergraduate education and let's say three years, 90 credits, we would significantly impact the cost of higher education. [00:08:29] Pano Kanelos: We'd cut it in half really. If you think about it, if you locked off that fourth year, there's 25% that you're saving off the cost. And then in that fourth year, you're actually working and earning, and so the positive gain there would be tremendous. But we can't do that. The system, we're not authorized through creditors and that to have a shorter degree. [00:08:50] Pano Kanelos: So we have to sit with the current format. So we start thinking, okay, rather than just think of four years as a long and luxurious stroll through your undergraduate years, what if we try to pack two significantly different experiences into that four years that would complement one another? [00:09:12] Pano Kanelos: And so what we've done, essentially—it's either like elegant and simple, or it's the stupidest idea I've ever had—but I said, look, let's take four years and let's divide them in half and let's have the first two years be an intensive liberal arts education. Ask the great human questions. [00:09:29] Pano Kanelos: Read philosophy and literature. Look at the history of science. Dive into mathematics. Think about music theory. Have a discussion-based education where all the students are essentially following the same course of studies, thinking deeply about what it means to be a human being. What are the great answers to those questions we've come up with? [00:09:46] Pano Kanelos: What are the answers that we need to come up with in the future? And so we've developed in the first years, we call our intellectual foundations program. So all students will march through that program for the first two years. And then in the latter years, in years three and four, rather than traditional academic departments, we have interdisciplinary centers of inquiry that are thematic in nature. [00:10:09] Pano Kanelos: We have a center on economics, politics, and history, a center on education and public service, STEM-related centers. And the idea is that rather than go in a major and then just check a bunch of boxes, courses that you need to take to get a certificate of some sort, students become junior fellows in one of these centers, and they're working actively on research projects with professors, with people in the industry, that their education is active and applied. [00:10:37] Pano Kanelos: So there's a radical difference between the two parts, the first two years and the second two years. But tying it all together, and I think this is probably the most innovative piece of our curriculum, is what we call the Polaris Project. The Polaris project is a four-year self-directed, student-driven project where they have to come up with a moonshot idea. [00:10:57] Pano Kanelos: And the idea is to bring, as we say, bring their greatest gifts to the world's greatest needs. We want 'em to think about who they are and what it is that they hope to achieve in the world. And then rather than have that be something abstract, we're gonna teach them how to conceive, design, and execute on a project that will make that real. [00:11:19] Pano Kanelos: And this project goes through all four years, and it becomes the inspirational spine of their education. So most universities are built around the idea that you trundle along, pick up credits, do classes, and at the end of it, you have this diploma and that shows that you've achieved things. [00:11:39] Pano Kanelos: At the end of four years at the University of Austin, you will have actually created something of value in the world. Or you will have moved significantly towards creating something value. I'll give an example of a project that a student, a prospective student, recently shared with me. This is a kid who loves the ancient world. He loves Greek and Latin, been studying it through high school and that. And I said like, look, if you could come up with a dream project based on what you love, but that would have a significant impact in the world, what would it be? [00:12:09] Pano Kanelos: And he's like, “I want to teach 100,000 people how to read Ancient Greek.” I'm like, “That's amazing. What a great project.” Think about what it entails. It entails understanding pedagogy, mastering the language, thinking about what kind of platform will you use to teach. How are you gonna find a hundred thousand people? [00:12:29] Pano Kanelos: What kind of business plan are you gonna have? Is it gonna be nonprofit, for-profit? So now this student then would come up with this idea in their first year and then be mentored through our Polaris Center, would be connected with experts research resources, and we teach them everything they needed to do to sort of bring this plan to realization. [00:12:48] Pano Kanelos: And at the end of four years, they've probably gone pretty far towards achieving that. Maybe they're done with it, maybe not. That's a real education. That's taking intellectual passion, personal passion, and bringing something new into the world. And that's the sort of spirit of our enterprise. [00:13:03] Michael Scharf: I wanted to just kind of pull back a little bit on something. You're starting your first undergraduate class in 15, 16 months, September, 2024. But in the interim, you started offering something called the Forbidden Courses. You've offered it once. I wanted to go to it, but I'm too old. And you were offering it again. [00:13:24] Michael Scharf: Tell us about the forbidden course. Is that just a fascinating idea? [00:13:28] Pano Kanelos: Yeah. So one of the things we feel that universities have a responsibility to do is to teach students and faculty and the culture at large how to be able to come together across differences and have difficult conversations about important things. [00:13:49] Pano Kanelos: We all know that we are living in a culture that has become radically polarized and nobody thinks this is healthy. Yet we're not sure how to break through that, kinda how to break the fever. And I think universities have a particular responsibility cuz universities should be the home of intellectual pluralism, should be the place where ideas of all different sorts come together in productive ways. [00:14:12] Pano Kanelos: So early on in our project, we were sort of just a few months into it, I challenged the team. I said, “Look, we can't just be planning to build a university. We should start doing things that will indicate to the world the kind of institution we wanna be.” So we said, what's important to us? Having convening students and faculty around the table and teaching them how to discuss civilly, things that matter to everybody. [00:14:41] Pano Kanelos: So we created this summer program called The Forbidden Courses, and it seemed like a good name. If you tell young people something's forbidden, they'll be attracted to it. But what we really meant about this, it wasn't so much that the topics themselves can't be discussed anywhere, but that the kind of conversations that we should be having seem to be preemptively forbidden by the ambient political environment we have around us. [00:15:08] Pano Kanelos: So we put together a slate of courses around difficult things, questions of capitalism or empire or gender or race. And we brought in some of the world's most interesting public intellectuals and professors. People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Deirdre McCloskey or bringing this year, Walter Russell Mead and Glenn Loury, and people who have been very public and vocal about important things. [00:15:37] Pano Kanelos: And we just said, let's invite some students and teach them how to have conversations across difference. So we held this firs program last summer in Dallas, cuz we didn't have a location that was suitable here. So we're up in Dallas and we invited students from other universities to come partake in this. [00:15:55] Pano Kanelos: And we didn't know, we were only a few months into the project. I didn't know if we were gonna get students. So I said let's keep it small, 80 students, pilot program. Let's see if there's a need for this. We had thousands upon thousands of applications from all across the country and all across the world. [00:16:14] Pano Kanelos: We had students from Oxford and Cambridge and Germany and Australia and South Africa, and practically, every part of our country. And most importantly, we had students who represented the broadest possible range of backgrounds and perspectives and politics and belief systems, and it was brilliant. [00:16:33] Pano Kanelos: They came together and they had the kind of experience that they had hoped to have at universities, and many of them told us that. One young woman from Brown University who was a senior said this: “This is what I've been waiting for years to experience. [00:16:49] Pano Kanelos: These kind of conversations.” And so we're doing it again this summer. We got another star-studded cast of faculty. The applications are through the roof, and we're really, really just thrilled to be able to offer this service. [00:17:02] Jason Scharf: So when we think about, obviously, as a school and education, something that we've talked extensively on the podcast about is talent, both here in Austin and broadly and skills and how we both increase the local population. And one of the big fundamental challenges in training and education has just been the speed of technological change. You may learn something and the next day, it's gone. [00:17:28] Jason Scharf: We’ve talked a lot about ChatGPT and how quickly that has kind of changed everything. So how do you go about designing programs that either try to keep up with that speed or that you're actually preparing students for a world that changes on a constant basis? [00:17:47] Pano Kanelos: Well, obviously you just ask ChatGPT and they tell you how to do that. [00:17:51] Jason Scharf: Oh, there you go. Yes. That's the answer. [00:17:54] Pano Kanelos: From the perspective of universities as institutions, universities are very slow-moving. Even though most people would characterize universities as being on the progressive or liberal side politically, they're very conservative when it comes to their own institutional structure and format. [00:18:15] Pano Kanelos: One of the ways we're addressing this is institutionally and structurally. So as I joked about earlier, we have people who have never left universities teaching the next generation how to live in a world that's moving at the speed of light. But the institutions are moving at the speed of a tortoise. [00:18:36] Pano Kanelos: So one of the things that we're doing is we're ensuring that our programmatic offerings, our courses, include both scholars and practitioners. Layering into the academic experience, people who are doing things in the real world, whose life is primarily outside of universities, and bringing them into the educational bloodstream, I think is very important. [00:19:00] Pano Kanelos: And doing this intentionally. And then even our traditional scholars, let's say the professors, we're challenging them to engage in project-based and applied learning and that as opposed to archival research or scholarly research. I mean, it's, it's great. That's the kind of work I do. It's great to have some people do that, but that can't be the exclusive domain of the university. [00:19:23] Pano Kanelos: So that's one thing. But around that, I mentioned we don't have traditional departments and majors. One of the reasons we don't is so that we can remain really nimble. We have three layers of academic units. And again, this is different than what you'd find at other universities. [00:19:38] Pano Kanelos: Our academic centers of inquiry are the core programs that over time will remain stable. They're all interdisciplinary, but where the core classes will be wrapped around these programs are what we call institutes and initiatives. [00:19:57] Pano Kanelos: And the idea is an institute is something that we can put together quickly around particular issues that are self-funded and that will have a shelf life only as long as needed. We're working, for example, right now in a future of Energy Institute, and so we're bringing together scholars and public intellectuals who think deeply about the future of energy. [00:20:16] Pano Kanelos: We could get this institute to stand up in a relatively short amount of time. Yet this becomes an academic unit that students can take courses in and they can do research in and it supplements everything else they're learning. We're looking at an institute right now on this in terms of—we're calling it the Institute for the Study of the Middle East, but the focus on this institute are peoples and groups in the Middle East that traditionally haven't had a place at the table at universities or sufficiently. So we're looking at a program in Assyrian studies and Coptic studies and Persian studies so that we can bring together scholars to rethink and reframe something as complex as the politics and history of the Middle East. [00:20:55] Pano Kanelos: So these institutes they may last for two years, they may last for 20. But the idea is that there's a kind of fluidity there. And then around there, we have even more fluid entities called initiatives, which are meant to be one or two-year projects that are staffed by faculty from around the country, around the world, that will come in and join us for something really, really intense. [00:21:17] Pano Kanelos: And again, this becomes part of our academic offerings to students. So a student might be working on an initiative. For example, one of the ones we're starting right now is about adolescent flourishing, thinking about the impact of social media and the stresses of modern life on adolescent development. [00:21:34] Pano Kanelos: We're putting together a program that'll be between a year and two years long, an initiative that's gathering together 20 of the great scholars from around the world on this. It's only meant to be a year or two long, but our students will be participating in that learning and will be doing research alongside these scholars. [00:21:49] Pano Kanelos: So by having different academic units that have different layers of fluidity and flexibility, we can continue to evolve our program in real-time, even as we retain core elements. [00:22:02] Jason Scharf: And how do you see the actual mechanism and delivery of education itself? So, UT Austin, the 800-pound gorilla at education in Austin, announced they had an AI master's program recently that was gonna be delivered online at the learner's own pace. [00:22:21] Jason Scharf: So it actually was kind of more distributing education broadly. Do you see delivery models of education changing and how is University of Austin thinking about that? [00:22:32] Pano Kanelos: I think it's inevitable that delivery of information in general changes over time. It's changing even in terms of our own daily use, the way we encounter the things we need to know about the world. [00:22:44] Pano Kanelos: I will say that I think at the undergraduate level, in particular, in-person education is still essential. I think the kind of transformative education, if you're really gonna shape young people into builders, innovators, entrepreneurs, there's a human-to-human part of this that's essential and creating a learning community that is intentional and intensive is something that we still can only do together as human beings. Now wrapped around that could be different modes of instruction. So there may be use for hybrid classrooms, flip classrooms, some online lectures in that. But the core experience still, we believe, has to be in person. [00:23:30] Pano Kanelos: So we're holding onto that really purposefully. I think it changes when you think about graduate education or continuing education programs where you can create a program that's relatively compact, that somebody can learn something at their own pace in a relatively short period of time. [00:23:50] Pano Kanelos: But I will say that there's a difference between quantitative learning and qualitative learning. Quantitative learning is, here are some discreet fact-based skills that we can transfer to you. Becoming an accountant, learning how to code, these are things—That kind of learning, I think—calculus—lends itself more easily to, let's say, a media-driven environment online. [00:24:16] Pano Kanelos: And that, or some sort of virtual environment. Qualitative learning is about not right or wrong answers, hard driven facts. Quality of learning is about how human beings discern as human beings. What's better or worse? How do we understand the world and all its complexity and explore those areas where the answers aren't very clear and can't be very clear, but we still have to come up with answers? So what is justice? What is fairness? What are these things? That kind of learning really to have the deepest possible experience of answering those questions, you need to have deeply connected human relations so that you can build the bounds of trust that will allow you to have those conversations. [00:25:01] Pano Kanelos: So learning is not all one thing. And so thinking about different modes of delivery that are appropriate for different topics and different modes of exploration, I think, are very important. [00:25:13] Jason Scharf: So I want to come back a little bit to the origin story, but kind of bring it home to here. [00:25:20] Jason Scharf: So I'm gonna read something from the website. “Texas is experiencing a historic boom in talent and capital. Austin in particular is a hub for builders, mavericks, and creators. The kind of people our university aims to attract and from whom we want to receive guidance.” So you talked a bit about Bari Weiss calling you and saying, you have to do this and you should come meet Joe Lonsdale. [00:25:42] Jason Scharf: Why is University of Austin in Austin? [00:25:45] Pano Kanelos: The simplest answer is where else would you build a university today? Doesn't it just make absolute sense if you're building a new university to do it in Austin, which is a place that's booming, growing? Where the primary purpose of universities is knowledge creation. [00:25:59] Pano Kanelos: It's knowledge creation. K through 12 education is primarily about knowledge consumption. So when you're young, you learn the building blocks that you need to learn other things, numeracy, literacy, and then content starts to fill in. You learn about history or art or biology. And as you kind of progress up to high school, you start to get some rudimentary critical thinking skills and that, but through the whole K through 12 experience, essentially, you’re consuming knowledge that's been prepared for you elsewhere, and that elsewhere is a university, for the most part. [00:26:34] Pano Kanelos: University is where knowledge is created, discovered, and so being in a place that is just on fire with creative energy, that itself is attracting innovators and builders, aligns perfectly with the purpose of universities in general. And it aligns with our mission, which is to not just graduate students with pieces of paper, but to graduate students who are gonna build and innovate and create. So Austin's a perfect fit. I also think going back to that earlier topic of civil discourse, of trying to get people to break through these political barriers we put up, the social barriers, cultural barriers. [00:27:21] Pano Kanelos: I think Austin exemplifies a place where conversations still happen across differences. Being a very progressive and liberal city and a state that trends on the conservative side means that you're gonna find people of all sorts and all opinions all around you. And I think Austin is one of the few places that hasn't let itself become a bubble in either direction politically. [00:27:45] Pano Kanelos: And that spirit, I think, is radically important not just for a new university, but for all universities. And so being able to tap into that is very, very important. And I will say, our experience so far in the city, as you might imagine, I get to meet lots and lots of people in and around Austin. [00:28:05] Pano Kanelos: I'm radically impressed with how truly varied, not just sort of like blue, red left, right, but how truly varied the people are here in terms of their belief commitments, their ideas, their politics and that, and how open and expressive they are, and how comfortable it is to have conversations here that might not easy to have in other locations. So Austin makes all the sense in the world to me. It seems like a slam dunk. [00:28:36] Jason Scharf: It surprised us as well in terms of the narratives versus reality. Because about a month ago, we had on the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Texas legislature's Innovation Caucus. [00:28:51] Jason Scharf: One of the things that really attracted us to having that conversation is about the intersection of policy, legislation, and regulation and innovation was the Chairman was a Republican and the Vice Chairman was a Democrat, and the fact you had a bipartisan caucus that was actually getting things done. [00:29:10] Jason Scharf: One didn't fit the narrative that you would expect in, as you said, a more of a red state and the idea of something like that in DC. It doesn't fit in any of those. And it says that it's a lot more ability to work together than I think you would you get from the outside, which I think is something that was really, I said it's not as bubble as you would see from what you read in the headlines, which is great. [00:29:30] Jason Scharf: And I think it's a real bonus thing for the region. [00:29:33] Pano Kanelos: Yeah. The truth is on the ground in Austin, you find people who are open, curious, cooperative, and I think it comes from a genuine—I think it comes from the kind of inherited culture of Austin, which is I think has always been a little askew from the normal culture, normative culture, let's say, in the US has been proudly different. [00:29:59] Pano Kanelos: And I think it's partially that, and I also think this is a culture that is eager to question orthodoxies. And I always say that universities, for example, are places where heterodoxy and orthodoxy need to meet, where received ideas and new ideas come into contact with each other, and I think Austin's that kind of place. [00:30:24] Pano Kanelos: I think also one of our guiding principles at the university is civil discourse. And I think civil discourse is an often misunderstood term. We tend to use it today to mean something like two people who have radically different political opinions can be in a room together and not kill each other. [00:30:45] Pano Kanelos: That's civil discourse. [00:30:47] Michael Scharf: Kind of a low bar. [00:30:48] Pano Kanelos: It was a very low bar. But I think that's profoundly too common, that understanding. But what civil discourse really comes from civil, from civic, from our common lived life. It's the discourse that we need to have to build better communities, to build our civil society. And the elements of civil discourse are not very complicated. There's three elements. One is that you have to have intellectual humility. We're all human beings. We're all trying to figure out this life together. [00:31:25] Pano Kanelos: We don't really know very much, each of us. I have a PhD there. I couldn't explain to you how my television works. I couldn't do it. I could explain to you simple things in life and so the things I know are narrow and few, and we all live life like that. Yet we try to see the big picture. [00:31:47] Pano Kanelos: So intellectual humility tells us that we need to learn together. We need to turn to others and sort of in a composite way, a collective way, a kind of mosaic. Understand the world in a fuller sense. The second characteristic is we're all creatures of logos. I would say rational creatures, and therefore we all deserve to recognize dignity of all human beings. [00:32:10] Pano Kanelos: We all have equal dignity and equal right to participate in the civil conversation. And the third element is a passion for truth. That's what human beings are. Human beings are the way that the universe comes to know itself. We're the way the universe looks back and tries to figure itself out. [00:32:28] Pano Kanelos: That's ingrained in who—so we have a passion for figuring out what's true. We don't always get there. We rarely get there, but it's something that should drive us as human beings. So if you put together intellectual humility, the commitment to the dignity of all people in a conversation, and a passion for truth, you wrap that together, that's civil discourse and that's how you build a civil society. [00:32:49] Michael Scharf: And that's an amazing way of describing it. And it's interesting because Jason and I have talked a lot about the culture of Austin more than just keeping it weird and more than just the speed of Elon, but the ability to have those conversations is incredibly important and you're not gonna find any disagreement here about how Austin is the right place for the University of Austin. [00:33:14] Michael Scharf: We're relatively new like you are, and we came to Austin for a reason. It's a great place for those innovators and builders, and part of what you've talked about is how important a university is within that, and the University of Austin is going to be different in terms of how it fits into this landscape. [00:33:36] Michael Scharf: So talk a little bit more about how you see the University of Austin fitting into Austin's innovation ecosystem. We talked a little bit about where the university's going to be and what's going to be around it. [00:33:51] Pano Kanelos: Yeah, our intention is to create a culture internally in the uiversity of innovation, entrepreneurship, a culture of creation and building. [00:34:03] Pano Kanelos: And our intention around the university is to foster that kind of culture. I often say this, okay, this sounds radically, overly ambitious, so just forgive me, all right? If you're dreaming up the university, you have to dream big. And so when I met with Jay Hartzel at UT, who's a wonderful conversation partner in all this, I'm like, “Jay, just let me frame this way.” [00:34:24] Pano Kanelos: “We're starting the university in your backyard. I'm sorry, we're calling the University of Austin. It creates confusion. I'm sorry.” He did look at me. He goes, “That's fine, Pano.” He goes, “Just tell me one thing.” He goes, “Are you gonna have a football team?” And I said, “No, we're not gonna have a football team.” [00:34:36] Pano Kanelos: He said, “Okay, we can still talk.” So I said, “Jay, think of it this way. Every great city, every alpha city or however you characterize it in the world has a world-class public university and a world-class private university or many private universities.” And I said, “Our goal is to be the Stanford to your Berkeley.” [00:34:58] Pano Kanelos: That's what we want to achieve. Now, again, I know that sounds remarkably ambitious at this stage. Talk to me in a hundred years, we might still be able to talk if the transhumanists have their way, talk to me in a hundred years, and we'll see where we are. I think we're not gonna be that far from that, but using Stanford as a model, when Stanford started, it was just thousands of acres of dirt in the middle of nowhere. [00:35:19] Pano Kanelos: The city of San Francisco was 45 minutes away. It was an underdeveloped area and they had the foresight to create an institution, not only thinking of it as a university but thinking of it as an accelerator for development. And so as Stanford took off, especially in the tech areas, we know they fostered around the university on Sandhill Road and elsewhere, incubators that would compliment the work of the university and thus Silicon Valley was born. [00:35:52] Pano Kanelos: All right. It's our intention as we build the university to have as many possible partnerships and collaborative relationships with companies and organizations and that who wanna tap into the dynamism of a new university, who want to co-develop programs with us, who want to intern our students, who take those Polaris projects we have and help students bring them to fruition. [00:36:19] Pano Kanelos: So the spirit of our project maps on very closely to the spirit that's developing here in Austin. Not just tech. I think industry in general. One of the most fascinating projects you guys probably know about this company called Icon that laser prints houses, right? That to me is a perfect symbol of Austin, right? [00:36:40] Pano Kanelos: You have somebody who is like, “Okay, we have this thing called how do I bring my greatest gifts to the world's greatest need?” The world needs affordable housing. I know something about technology and I have this idea that if these little laser printers, now we're printing out coffee mugs or something, what if we built huge ones and printed houses and did it with concrete instead of plastic? [00:37:05] Pano Kanelos: And the idea is born and it's born here in Austin and this beautiful thing is happening that brings together both a sense of responsibility to others in society technological innovation. But also like real industrial heft. I mean, these are real houses being built in the world. [00:37:23] Jason Scharf: One of the things that we always think is great is an interesting thing about Icon, and definitely we're big fans of the company, is not just that they represent this kind of great convergence tech, right? [00:37:35] Jason Scharf: It's not just this construction, it's the industrial. We're actually building things, but then it's also the deployment here that they are actually— had their first house here, but then now in Georgetown, they're building the first 3D printed neighborhood. So the first 3D-printed neighborhood in the world is in Austin. [00:37:54] Jason Scharf: So you're having this deployment of the future here. [00:37:58] Pano Kanelos: Hundred percent. And If I have my way, we'll have the first 3D-printed dormitories in the world at the University of Austin. [00:38:05] Jason Scharf: So I'm sure Jason Ballard will take your call on that. [00:38:08] Michael Scharf: That's right. I have no doubt about it. Pano, this has been a great conversation. [00:38:14] Michael Scharf: We always ask guests a final question about what's next, but in a lot of ways, this entire conversation has been about what's next. I don't wanna look a hundred years into the future, but the Texas Bicentennial is 2036. That's a good number. What does the University of Austin look like a dozen years from now? [00:38:35] Pano Kanelos: A dozen years from now, there is a thriving campus in the Austin area that is attracting scholars and practitioners and young people from across the country and across the world who are building things that we haven't yet dreamed of, things that are just beyond the horizon of our comprehension now. [00:38:59] Pano Kanelos: And our goal is to be creating not simply solutions for the future, but things that are gonna change the future. And that this institution will be a hub for that, a home for that. And my hope is as well that we're a hub in different ways, that UATX, University of Austin, is inspiring new universities and new institutions across the country and across the world. [00:39:25] Pano Kanelos: In many ways, part of our mission is to prove that you can build a new university today, that you can do this, that even though it sometimes might seem intimidating to imagine the kind of resources you need and the kind of planning you need, and the time and all that, that it's doable as we kind of snowplow our way forward and get this done. [00:39:46] Pano Kanelos: It's inspiring other projects behind us and I know about this cuz I get the calls all the time from people all across the country, the world who are like, “We'd love to start a new university here. What are your insights? What have you learned? Can you give us a hand?” [00:40:03] Pano Kanelos: And so I think inspiring that kind of innovation so that there's a whole new constellation of institutions, some of which look very different from us, some may look similar in that, but the world is populated by the next generation of universities. That to me is a great success. [00:40:18] Michael Scharf: I happen to know someone who probably will be in that 2036 graduated class. [00:40:25] Michael Scharf: He's nine years old right now, and I think he'd be perfect for this. [00:40:36] Pano Kanelos: Excellent. [00:40:25] Michael Scharf: Pano Kanelos. Thank you so much. This has been a fascinating conversation. Appreciate you joining us here on Austin Next. [00:40:30] Pano Kanelos: Thank you for welcoming me to the conversation and to Austin. Great to talk with you guys. Thanks. [00:40:43] Jason Scharf: So what's next, Austin? We're glad you've joined us on this journey. Please subscribe at your favorite podcast catcher. Leave us a review and let your colleagues know about us. This will help us grow the podcast and continue bringing you unique interviews and insights. Thanks again for listening and see you soon.