USyd and Ramsay Centre edge closer to agreement over western civilisation course

The controversial programme is championed by former prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard and was rejected by the ANU earlier this year

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The University of Sydney is drafting its side of an agreement to establish the Ramsay Centre’s controversial proposed course on western civilisation, according to the Australian Financial Review. The agreement, or memorandum of understanding (MoU), is being reviewed by the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and will be discussed at the next FASS board meeting.

The Ramsay Centre, a conservative institute with Liberal Party ties, is offering $25 million to set up the course, which will teach the history and culture of the western world.

Earlier this year, the Australian National University rejected a similar proposal from the Ramsay Centre, citing concerns that the institute wanted “unprecedented” control over reading lists, curricula and staffing decisions.  

Talks over the course began with USyd in June, and a draft outline was prepared, overseen by Professor of Philosophy Peter Anstey. According to Anstey, the course will not be evaluative or comparative. This description echoes remarks made by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who described the programme as not “about” Western civilisation but “for” it.

Honi understands that Vice Chancellor Michael Spence will send an email to staff on Friday, inviting submissions on the MoU from academics in FASS, the faculty that will house the western civilisation course.

According to the AFR, Spence will seek contributions, in particular from those working in fields closely linked to the programme—namely Art History, Classics and Ancient History, English, History and Philosophy.

Given the ANU’s experience, USyd is likely to insist on full academic control over the course.

The Ramsay Centre and its programme remain controversial with students and staff. Roughly 200 USyd staff have signed a letter by the National Tertiary Education Union, which urges the University to reject any agreements with the institute. And student activists continue to protest against the proposed course.

More to come.