As teachers and researchers in the humanities, we are acutely aware of the lack of means that our faculty suffers. There can be no doubt that a major financial commitment to our disciplines is needed. But since tertiary education is a public good, we believe that this is, first and foremost, a responsibility of government.
However, if private benefactors want to support our work, they have every opportunity to do so. The cultural and intellectual legacies of ‘the West’ – a category which cannot be simply presupposed, but which requires significant historicisation and complexification – are already intensively studied and taught in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Paul Ramsay could simply have donated funds to support existing humanities teaching in Australia, here or elsewhere. The fact he chose not to do so shows that his intention was more than simply fostering university study of Western intellectual and cultural traditions, within the standing norms of academic independence.
Ramsay’s aim, according to his centre’s website, was to create ‘a cadre of leaders … whose awareness and appreciation of their country’s Western heritage and values… would help guide their decision making in the future’. The centre was established to promote the study of Western civilisation ‘in this spirit’. Public comments of Ramsay Centre board members, for example Tony Abbott or John Howard, can leave no doubt as to the conservative, culturally essentialist, and Eurocentric vision the centre is dedicated to propagating, nor about its intention actively to shape the ideological and political tenor of its educational offerings and hiring practices. Simon Haines, the centre ‘CEO’, told The Australian that the centre ‘would expect to have a voice in the hiring process while acknowledging the autonomy of universities’, and that it ‘would not be wanting to hire somebody who is coming in with a long liturgy of what terrible damage Western civ had done to the world’. The intention to predetermine academic outcomes evident in these remarks is clear.
We are a university, not a training institute for a future political ‘cadre’. Enquiry in the humanities must be free and conducted independent of the influence of third parties. It is in the nature of a true liberal arts education that it is undertaken for its own sake, independently of any intended instrumentalisation, whether political or social. Decisions about how the cultural traditions of Europe are to be studied at university are for academics to make, not billionaires or former prime ministers. It is not for us either to specify in advance what direction study must take – for example, by requiring that it be conducted in a spirit of ‘appreciation’ of Australia’s ‘Western heritage’ – or to place strong expectations on our students about the ends to which their education will be directed after graduation. The most obvious point of comparison to the Ramsay Centre, the university’s Confucius Institute, places no constraints of this kind on undergraduate education, which it has no capacity to influence by either imposing or excluding particular lines of study.
Quite aside from these concerns over the threat the centre constitutes to the university’s academic independence, we are also deeply concerned that offering ‘Western civilisation’ courses would establish a structural discrimination in the undergraduate curriculum. Handpicked students interested in studying the ‘West’ would be granted generous scholarships and offered educational opportunities – personalised tutorial-format instruction in small classes – entirely out of reach of those interested in indigenous Australia, South East Asia, or the Islamic world, to give only three examples. While the faculty has scholarships and various support programmes in different areas, the Ramsay Centre’s proposal for a stand-alone, elite degree in Western civilisation is of an entirely different order of magnitude.
This concern over the discriminatory consequences of devoting uniquely favourable learning conditions to the study of the West holds regardless of whatever guarantees may be given about the academic independence of any Western Civilisation course. The Ramsay programme represents, quite simply, European supremacism writ large: it signals that the study of the European cultural tradition warrants better educational circumstances than that of others. The profoundly dangerous implications of this bias do not, we believe, need further comment.
Of further concern, admission into this privileged programme would not be determined by the university on academic criteria alone. Rather, students would be awarded places on the basis of the board’s assessment of their ‘potential for leadership and community contribution’. In that context, we believe there is every reason to fear that educational opportunity will be made a function of students’ perceived political sympathies, as ultimately determined by a board, chaired by John Howard, whose political leanings leave little room for doubt.
The university should not accept financial support at any cost. As academics committed to the critical role of humanities education and research in improving society, we are deeply disturbed by the possibility of Ramsay Centre courses being part of our institution, to say nothing of the significant and justified reputational damage that the university collectively, and its academics derivatively, would incur as a result. We belong to a multicultural and hybrid society in a world traversed by serious geopolitical and social animosities. Collaborating with the chauvinistic Western essentialism that the Ramsay Centre programme embodies would be a violation of our crucial role in promoting a society of diversity, inclusiveness, and mutual respect.
 http://www.ramsaycentre.org/about-us/the-ramsay-vision/ https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2018/04/paul-ramsays-vision-australia/; http://www.ramsaycentre.org/hon-john-howard-om-ac-reflects-foundations-western-civilisation-australian-democracy-christianity-mission-ramsay-centre/ https://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/labor-heavyweights-join-ramsay-study-centre/news-story/4dad840eec29a224216229470099d4a0 http://www.ramsaycentre.org/scholarships/undergraduate-scholarships/ http://www.ramsaycentre.org/about-us/board-of-directors/
Dr Nick RiemerProfessor Adrian VickersDr David BrophyDr. Jane Chi Hyun ParkDr Melissa HardieProfessor Linda ConnorDr Cat MoirAssociate Professor Damien CahillDr Frances ClarkeDr Stephen WhitemanAssociate Professor Kate LilleyDr Chin JouDr Sophie Loy-WilsonAssociate Professor Ahmar MahboobDr Matthew StavrosAssociate Professor Bronwyn WinterProfessor Moira GatensProfessor Alison BettsDr Julie-Ann RobsonDr Astrida NeimanisProfessor Michael A McDonnellDr Mats KarlssonDr Rebecca PearseDr Fiona GillDr Con SpirosiProfessor Adam David MortonDr Sonja van WichelenProfessor Penny RussellAssociate Professor Jake LynchDr Andres RodriguezDr Stuart RosewarneDr Tim AndersonAssociate Professor Melinda CooperProfessor Nicola PiperDr Neil MacleanDr Evan JonesAssociate Professor Fran Collyer Dr Cynthia HunterGrant McCallDr Xiaohuan ZhaoAssociate Professor Antonia Rubino Professor Danielle CelermajerDr Hélène Sirantoine Dr. Ruben Perez-HidalgoDr Terry WoronovDr Yasmine MusharbashDr Mark AllonDr Huw GriffithsAssociate Professor Peter KirkpatrickDr Yaegan DoranDr Martin RorkeDr Andrea BandhauerDr Lucia SorberaAssociate Professor Sarah Gleeson-WhiteAnna HushAssociate Professor Ian MaxwellAlex PageProfessor Meaghan MorrisDr Omid TofighianDr Fiona MartinDr Yeow-Tong ChiaDr Fiona McFarlaneProfessor Emeritus Stuart ReesDr Fiona LeeDr Gaynor MacdonaldDr Belinda CastlesDr Jen HarrisonDavid Primrose Professor Vanessa SmithEm. Professor Raewyn ConnellEm. Professor Stephen CastlesDr Su-kyoung HwangProfessor James MartinAssociate Professor Natalya LustyDr Nesrine BasheerMr John TonkinHonorary Associate Professor John M O’BrienAssociate Professor Susan ThomasMr Fadi BaghdadiDr Victoria GrievesEm. Professor Helen DunstanDr Liam GrealyAssociate Professor Thom van DoorenHonorary Associate Professor Susan HoodDr Anthea TaylorDr Brigid RooneyAssociate Professor Megan MacKenzieDr Leah Lui-ChivizheDr Marcus CarterDr Shawna TangDr Cindy McCreeryDr Caroline LipovskyDr Nerida JarkeyProfessor Sujatha FernandesProfessor Elspeth ProbynDr Ase OttossonAssociate Professor Ruth BarcanProfessor Robert AldrichDr Guy ReddenDr Elisabeth KramerDr Dinesh WadiwelDr Luis Angosto-FerrandezDr Michael BeggsAssociate Professor Nicole MocklerDr Dyah PitalokaDr Susan PotterProfessor Michael AllenDr David KellyDr Anthony CordingleyProfessor Emeritus Frank StilwellProfessor Ariadne VromenProfessor John FrowDr James KaneDr Kim KemmisDr Gareth BryantDr Christopher HartneySantalia Deane-JohnsDr Santí Rozario Dr Dalia NassarDr Alex GawronskiProfessor Peter MarksDr Catherine KeeleyDr Beth YahpDr James FlexnerAssociate Professor Helen ProctorDr Chi PhamDr Erik PaulNatalia Maystorovich ChulioAssociate Professor Rebbeca SuterAssociate Professor Bill DunnDr Sarah DunstanMr Rafi AlamEmeritus Professor Geoffrey SamuelDr Vek LewisDr Sonia WilsonDr Jessica KeanDr David SmithAssociate Professor Charlotte EpsteinDr Gavan ButlerDr Lorraine MortimerDr Joe Collins Dr Glenys EddyDr Claire HookerDr David HainesAlix ThoemingDr Holly HighDr Chiew Hui HoMarni WilliamsDr Ben BrownDr Gretchen PoinerDr. Mark W PostDr. Elizabeth InglesonVivian HonanDr Isabelle HesseMr Theo DelaneyMarie de LepervancheDr Olivia Oliver-HopkinsAndrew BrodzeliRachel EvansDr Robert AustinNathalie Camerlynck Riki ScanlanFelicity RubyDr Esther KleinDr Lorraine TowersRobyn BackenDr Madeleine PillDr Stewart JacksonDr Ute EickelkampAssociate Professor Ken CruickshankMs Gina Hawkes Natalia Maystorovich ChulioAssociate Professor Dilip DuttaDr Nadine EhlersNanda JaroszGeorgia Carr
Supporters from other facultiesJason TongDr Jo RiverDr Chi PhamDr Jo RiverRochelle EinbodenMs Stephanie SwansonDr Meloni MuirDr Rosemary O'DonnellDr Lynette RileyEmeritus Professor Robert BoakesLuke AlexanderProf. Joseph DavisAssociate Professor Nicole GrahamProfessor Simon RiceMiro SandevDr Nicole WatsonDr Louise Boon-KuoJodie KellDr Nicole CarntDr Carolyn McKayDr Andrew RossSharon ChambersProfessor Dee CarterElen Welch
Professional staff supportersMark JohnstonMarcus MillerMarijke HovingDave BurrowsChristopher AlboneCatherine WalshRosie SaulKelton Muir de MooreElizabeth Connor