Texas venture capitalist, Joe Lonsdale, said he was trying to create the first “non-partisan” university, at the Presidential Speaker Lecture on Wednesday evening.
Lonsdale is the second to last speaker in Mitch Daniels’ Presidential Speaker Series and is an Austin-based Venture Capital investor who grew up in Silicon Valley.
The University of Austin trustee said that his current venture is to fund and shape higher education through the new institution. Lonsdale said UATX will attempt to solve the problems modern colleges struggle with like rising tuition, “radical teachings,” and political isolation.
“It has to be a non-partisan university,” he said. “We have a lot of (faculty) from the moderate left as well as the moderate right. We choose people, not by virtue of their politics, but by virtue of the fact they're not illiberal.”
UATX will be located outside Austin, Texas, a city in which 23% of the population voted for Trump according to Lonsdale. Daniels then asked if Austin is the right place for this university.
“Texas is a great state, Austin is a great innovating and engineering hub and I think this will be the spot for this university,” he said. “We’re going to get attacked. A lot of universities don’t want this college to exist, but we have been getting thousands of applications and we will be getting top professors with our undergrad program up and running in two years.”
Lonsdale is known for his past co-workers and acquaintances like billionaire and co-founder of PayPal Peter Thiel and richest man in the world, Elon Musk. Lonsdale was asked about their often controversial opinions and stances, most recently Elon Musk's revamping of Twitter.
“Do I agree with them 100% of the time? Not 100%,” he said. “I think (Musk is) gonna figure it out because of the other really smart people around him and (his ability) to get to the right answers.”
He also accredits the criticism of Musk to the very public way he has taken control of a company as big as Twitter.
“These business moves would normally be settled behind closed doors in closed meetings, and the fact that this is all very public is new,” he said. “This is what innovation can look like. Entrepreneurship requires iteration and trying new things. I think there's a good chance he knows what he's doing here.”
Lonsdale claimed some political figures like congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Ed Markey and Senator Elizabeth Warren were fueling a narrative in the media advocating for Musk’s failure.
“You don’t want the government to take down everyone they don't agree with whether or not you're on the left or right side of politics,” he said. “ I thank god we live in a country where people can have their beliefs.”
Daniels pointed out how outspoken Lonsdale is when it comes to immigration, and Lonsdale was not hesitant to back up his philosophy.
“I’m on the board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute, and Reagan was a president that always advocated for bringing the best and the brightest to the US to come and thrive,” he said. “I will always stand by that. I also think it's wrong that a student from New Delhi studying in America has his parents wait 400 days for a visa to visit him.”
Lonsdale is also a managing partner at the venture capital firm 8VC, which has invested in companies like Oculus and Our Place.
Daniels inquired about his current ventures at 8VC, and what he looks for in new investments.
“Two things,” he said. “ What’s possible now that wasn’t possible five years ago? What are the logistics of it and how should those run? The second is who are the talents in the world and what are they doing? If you get those two things right you’re in good shape.”
Max Lowe, senior in Aerospace and Aeronautical Engineering, asked Lonsdale about his take on the Artemis Launch.
He highlighted that innovation is what drove Elon Musk to have a successful 10 years in space exploration, and that currenlty Space X was launching twice the amount of launches than any other organization.
“(Musk) has reawakened America's interest in space travel,” Lonsdale said.
Daniels' final question for Lonsdale was if he’d still want to live in America 20 years from now..
“I have a lot of friends, unfortunately, who made a billion dollars then moved to Singapore, to Switzerland, to a couple other parts of the world,” he said. “We're not perfect, but I think we're continuing to get better towards very high ideals. I'm going to fight to make sure we succeed so that I will want to be here and the kids will want to be here in 20 years.”
The next presidential lecture series will conclude this semester with a sold-out conversation with former president George W Bush on Dec. 6th in the Elliot Hall of Music.