Open letter from University of Sydney academics – No to collaboration between the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation and the University
We are strongly opposed to the University entering into any arrangement with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

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’.[1] 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.[2] 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’.[3] 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’.[4] 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.[5]

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.

[1] http://www.ramsaycentre.org/about-us/the-ramsay-vision/
[2] 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/
[3] https://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/labor-heavyweights-join-ramsay-study-centre/news-story/4dad840eec29a224216229470099d4a0
[4] http://www.ramsaycentre.org/scholarships/undergraduate-scholarships/
[5] http://www.ramsaycentre.org/about-us/board-of-directors/

Dr Nick Riemer
Professor Adrian Vickers
Dr David Brophy
Dr. Jane Chi Hyun Park
Dr Melissa Hardie
Professor Linda Connor
Dr Cat Moir
Associate Professor Damien Cahill
Dr Frances Clarke
Dr Stephen Whiteman
Associate Professor Kate Lilley
Dr Chin Jou
Dr Sophie Loy-Wilson
Associate Professor Ahmar Mahboob
Dr Matthew Stavros
Associate Professor Bronwyn Winter
Professor Moira Gatens
Professor Alison Betts
Dr Julie-Ann Robson
Dr Astrida Neimanis
Professor Michael A McDonnell
Dr Mats Karlsson
Dr Rebecca Pearse
Dr Fiona Gill
Dr Con Spirosi
Professor Adam David Morton
Dr Sonja van Wichelen
Professor Penny Russell
Associate Professor Jake Lynch
Dr Andres Rodriguez
Dr Stuart Rosewarne
Dr Tim Anderson
Associate Professor Melinda Cooper
Professor Nicola Piper
Dr Neil Maclean
Dr Evan Jones
Associate Professor Fran Collyer
Dr Cynthia Hunter
Grant McCall
Dr Xiaohuan Zhao
Associate Professor Antonia Rubino
Professor Danielle Celermajer
Dr Hélène Sirantoine
Dr. Ruben Perez-Hidalgo
Dr Terry Woronov
Dr Yasmine Musharbash
Dr Mark Allon
Dr Huw Griffiths
Associate Professor Peter Kirkpatrick
Dr Yaegan Doran
Dr Martin Rorke
Dr Andrea Bandhauer
Dr Lucia Sorbera
Associate Professor Sarah Gleeson-White
Anna Hush
Associate Professor Ian Maxwell
Alex Page
Professor Meaghan Morris
Dr Omid Tofighian
Dr Fiona Martin
Dr Yeow-Tong Chia
Dr Fiona McFarlane
Professor Emeritus Stuart Rees
Dr Fiona Lee
Dr Gaynor Macdonald
Dr Belinda Castles
Dr Jen Harrison
David Primrose
Professor Vanessa Smith
Em. Professor Raewyn Connell
Em. Professor Stephen Castles
Dr Su-kyoung Hwang
Professor James Martin
Associate Professor Natalya Lusty
Dr Nesrine Basheer
Mr John Tonkin
Honorary Associate Professor John M O’Brien
Associate Professor Susan Thomas
Mr Fadi Baghdadi
Dr Victoria Grieves
Em. Professor Helen Dunstan
Dr Liam Grealy
Associate Professor Thom van Dooren
Honorary Associate Professor Susan Hood
Dr Anthea Taylor
Dr Brigid Rooney
Associate Professor Megan MacKenzie
Dr Leah Lui-Chivizhe
Dr Marcus Carter
Dr Shawna Tang
Dr Cindy McCreery
Dr Caroline Lipovsky
Dr Nerida Jarkey
Professor Sujatha Fernandes
Professor Elspeth Probyn
Dr Ase Ottosson
Associate Professor Ruth Barcan
Professor Robert Aldrich
Dr Guy Redden
Dr Elisabeth Kramer
Dr Dinesh Wadiwel
Dr Luis Angosto-Ferrandez
Dr Michael Beggs
Associate Professor Nicole Mockler
Dr Dyah Pitaloka
Dr Susan Potter
Professor Michael Allen
Dr David Kelly
Dr Anthony Cordingley
Professor Emeritus Frank Stilwell
Professor Ariadne Vromen
Professor John Frow
Dr James Kane
Dr Kim Kemmis
Dr Gareth Bryant
Dr Christopher Hartney
Santalia Deane-Johns
Dr Santí Rozario
Dr Dalia Nassar
Dr Alex Gawronski
Professor Peter Marks
Dr Catherine Keeley
Dr Beth Yahp
Dr James Flexner
Associate Professor Helen Proctor
Dr Chi Pham
Dr Erik Paul
Natalia Maystorovich Chulio
Associate Professor Rebbeca Suter
Associate Professor Bill Dunn
Dr Sarah Dunstan
Mr Rafi Alam
Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Samuel
Dr Vek Lewis
Dr Sonia Wilson
Dr Jessica Kean
Dr David Smith
Associate Professor Charlotte Epstein
Dr Gavan Butler
Dr Lorraine Mortimer
Dr Joe Collins
Dr Glenys Eddy
Dr Claire Hooker
Dr David Haines
Alix Thoeming
Dr Holly High
Dr Chiew Hui Ho
Marni Williams
Dr Ben Brown
Dr Gretchen Poiner
Dr. Mark W Post
Dr. Elizabeth Ingleson
Vivian Honan
Dr Isabelle Hesse
Mr Theo Delaney
Marie de Lepervanche
Dr Olivia Oliver-Hopkins
Andrew Brodzeli
Rachel Evans
Dr Robert Austin
Nathalie Camerlynck
Riki Scanlan
Felicity Ruby
Dr Esther Klein
Dr Lorraine Towers
Robyn Backen
Dr Madeleine Pill
Dr Stewart Jackson
Dr Ute Eickelkamp
Associate Professor Ken Cruickshank
Ms Gina Hawkes
Natalia Maystorovich Chulio
Associate Professor Dilip Dutta
Dr Nadine Ehlers
Nanda Jarosz
Georgia Carr

Supporters from other faculties
Jason Tong
Dr Jo River
Dr Chi Pham
Dr Jo River
Rochelle Einboden
Ms Stephanie Swanson
Dr Meloni Muir
Dr Rosemary O'Donnell
Dr Lynette Riley
Emeritus Professor Robert Boakes
Luke Alexander
Prof. Joseph Davis
Associate Professor Nicole Graham
Professor Simon Rice
Miro Sandev
Dr Nicole Watson
Dr Louise Boon-Kuo
Jodie Kell
Dr Nicole Carnt
Dr Carolyn McKay
Dr Andrew Ross
Sharon Chambers
Professor Dee Carter
Elen Welch


Professional staff supporters
Mark Johnston
Marcus Miller
Marijke Hoving
Dave Burrows
Christopher Albone
Catherine Walsh
Rosie Saul
Kelton Muir de Moore
Elizabeth Connor

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