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College's 'forbidden courses' program promoting free speech praised by student: 'I was blown away'
February 22 2023, 08:00

The University of Austin is re-writing the precedent of the First Amendment on college campuses – offering a "forbidden courses" program to promote free speech without fear of judgment in the classroom. 

Ari Wagen participated in the university's program and joined "Fox & Friends First" to discuss why he was "blown away" with the course offering. 

"Everyone, even the instructors, really had this charity," Wagen told Ashley Strohmier Wednesday. "And by charity, I mean they heard everyone for what they were saying. They were willing to talk practice differences, and that allowed us to have these really cool conversations about all sorts of topics that we normally don't get to talk about on university campuses today, things like religion, sexuality, politics, but discussing things maybe outside the normal two-party system."


"I was just blown away by the program," he continued. 

The university offered the program over the summer, which was intended to allow students to "inquire openly into vexing questions" about controversial subjects "with honesty and without fear of shame," the university's website states. The classes covered topics ranging from feminism to the history of the Black male experience since the nation's founding. 

Wagen praised the class efforts to handle disagreement constructively, citing his experience in attending a climate class. 

He explained the course attendees would study facts before having a policy debate, which promoted a "common framework" before the discussion began. 

"We were working from a place of shared understanding, a common framework, and we weren't speaking from a place of just opinion, but we were using our opinion and sort of like the facts available to us," Wagen said. "And then when we did disagree, we could grapple with that disagreement in a way that was more than just talking over one another."


Wagen explained that the program would be ideal for any student who is "looking to engage in a different space" to express their thoughts and ideas. 

"If they feel like there's something missing from their current high school or college, if they feel like they're sort of shut out of conversations because… the conversations they want to have, you're not expected to have in a classroom today," he said. 

The university currently has some programs in Dallas while it awaits breaking ground in Austin. 

The university describes the one-week session on its website as offering students the chance to engage in "small discussion-based seminars, lectures, and social activities … to explore the great questions of our time."

"We are trying to be inclusive, and the worry is that you attract… only really radical people to a project like this," Wagen said. "And so I think we tried to make space for sort of the quieter voices or the people who felt maybe rock solid for the conversations we are having there."

The University of Austin, which opened in November 2021, raised at least $100 million in donations as of December 2022. 

The "forbidden courses" program will be offered again this coming summer. 

Fox News' Gabrielle Reyes contributed to this report.