Newspoll says yes to ANU Western Civilisation degree
The Ramsay Centre’s bid to establish dedicated courses in Western civilisation at some of the nation’s top universities has been bolstered by Newspoll results that show a majority of voters across all political groups support the proposal.
Source: News Corp
Voters of all stripes back Western civilisation uni courses
Two-thirds of those surveyed believe that ANU, which has a Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies and offers a bachelor of Asian studies, should also offer a course in Western civilisation.
ANU withdrew from talks with the Ramsay Centre about such a course over concerns about academic freedom.
The support was highest among Coalition voters at 72 per cent. Even among those who identified as Greens voters, who recorded the lowest level of support, 55 per cent backed the plan.
Overall, just 19 per cent of respondents said ANU should not offer a Western civilisation course, while 15 per cent were uncommitted.
The overwhelming public support for the course — which was the brainchild of late healthcare billionaire Paul Ramsay — is in contrast to the intense opposition it has met with on university campuses, first at ANU and now at the University of Sydney, which is in talks with the Ramsay Centre about running the course.
While student activists have campaigned against the course, not all students are opposed.
Third-year arts student Chris Wilks said he had been frustrated by a pronounced bias against Western culture in his studies and welcomed the discussion about the merits of studying a dedicated course in Western civilisation.
“I think we have a tendency — particularly in tutorials — to disregard anything of value because it’s associated with imperialism or sexism or any of the ‘isms’,” said Mr Wilks, a member of the Young Liberals who also tutors history and geography to school students.
“The left is obsessed with shutting down dialogue … I think it’s a great opportunity for the university. It’s something no university offers in a structured format.”
Australian Liberal Students Federation national president Xavier Boffa said it would be “incredibly disappointing” if students were to miss out on the opportunities presented by the proposed program “in order to appease radical left-wing interests”.
But Keep Ramsay Out of USYD campaign organiser Lily Campbell, an education officer on the student council, said many students were concerned by the Ramsay Centre’s affiliation with the Liberal Party, given it was chaired by former prime minister John Howard and Tony Abbott also served on the board. She said it sought to promote racism and “European supremism”.
Ms Campbell said students were determined to replicate the backlash that ANU administrators received from staff and students ahead of its decision to withdraw from the multi-million-dollar proposal this month.
“We want to make things equally difficult here,” she said.
The campaign launched a petition yesterday and members planned to stage a protest in Sydney last night outside the recording of ABC’s Q&A, which was expected to discuss higher education among other topics.
The petition noted that more than 100 Sydney academics had expressed concerns about the proposal, which, if similar to the ANU plans, could see Ramsay fund a bachelor of Western civilisation degree at the top-tier university, as well as academic and support staff and a substantial scholarship program.
The Ramsay Centre, which has proposed a curriculum based on the “great books” courses offered by US liberal arts colleges, including Columbia and Notre Dame universities, is seeking to partner with up to three universities, offering as many as 180 $25,000-a-year scholarships at each.
The Sydney University petition said: “Universities should be a place to challenge dominant ideas, institutions and systems — not a place where billionaires can buy influence over curriculum, staffing and pedagogy in order to pedal (sic) racism disguised as appreciation for ‘Western culture’.
“The university is selling control over its curriculum to the highest bidder and turning a blind eye to academic freedom and integrity to do so.”
The NSW Young Greens also signalled opposition to the Ramsay Centre. “With the rise of the far right globally and locally is it as important as ever to stand against state sanctioning of racist propaganda, which prioritises the important (sic) of European civilisation over others, and fails to critique the way they gained dominance — through bloody and continued imperialism,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.
Sydney University vice-chancellor Michael Spence has said no decision has been made on whether to proceed to formal negotiations with the Ramsay Centre, which is continuing talks with several universities. He said any academic program attracting such funding would go through the usual processes for course development and approval, and the university would not undertake anything that threatened academic freedom or integrity.
The Ramsay Centre has repeatedly denied claims it is seeking to interfere with academic independence.