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Austin American-Statesman

Senate bill would establish Civitas School of Civic and International Leadership at UT

By Megan Menchaca, Austin American-Statesman,

2023-03-15
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State Sen. Brandon Creighton, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education, is proposing to create the Civitas School of Civic and International Leadership at the University of Texas to educate future civic and global leaders.

Creighton, R-Conroe, filed Senate Bill 2030 on Thursday that, if passed, would establish the school by Jan. 15 as a new academic unit at UT that could house at least 15 tenured or tenure-track faculty members. The school could also offer undergraduate or graduate degree programs, general education courses, and other programs, courses and events.

According to the bill, the school would educate "future civic leaders through the study of the ideas, institutions, and practices that sustain free societies” and “future global leaders in strategy and statecraft by integrating the wisdom of history with current challenges.”

What's the school's goal?

The Civitas School of Civic and International Leadership's purpose would be to train future leaders and ensure that UT “promotes independent thought, civil discourse, and free speech among students enrolled at the university,” according to the bill. The school would also provide U.S. "civics education training and resources to teachers in public schools.”

Creighton's bill outlines the school's structure as being led by a dean who would also serve as its executive director. That dean would work with UT’s president to appoint a board of advisers who would help select future deans.

During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers approved $6 million to establish what is now the Civitas Institute at UT, which focuses on the “teaching, understanding and appreciation of American values.” The UT System Board of Regents matched the state's funding to create the institute.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and private donors had championed the center, which was originally known as the Liberty Institute, as a way to bring "intellectual diversity" and instruction on free markets and limited government to the university, which they claim is overrun by liberal educators. University faculty and students criticized the institute from its formation as they alleged a lack of transparency behind the program's development and the Legislature's apparent politicization of the university.

Last year, however, the Civitas Institute appointed a director and hosted multiple events about U.S. foreign policy and economic growth. It also houses several faculty fellows who teach courses on topics such as experimental economics, natural law theory and the U.S Constitution.

In a statement to the American-Statesman, Creighton said his proposed bill would “codify the mission and purpose” of the Civitas Institute and establish an academic unit, organizational structure and funding for faculty and staff.

“SB 2030 is the next step in making the Civitas Institute a reality and educational opportunity at the University of Texas at Austin,” Creighton said. “Through legislative action, Civitas Institute will be a leader in research, education and policy based on free markets, individual liberty and the philosophical and historical foundations of a free society.”

When asked for comment about Creighton's proposal, UT spokesperson Brian Davis told the Statesman the university does not comment on pending legislation.

Lawmakers have until May 29 to pass any bills during the regular legislative session and send them to Gov. Greg Abbott to become law.

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