Nearly half of University of Sydney staff believe the deal with the Ramsay Centre should not go ahead, according to the results of a staff survey released last week.
Staff members were asked whether the provisions of the draft memorandum of understanding (MoU) were “sufficient to protect the [University’s] academic independence and autonomy”.
215 of respondents said that they were opposed to the deal, 213 said that the draft is sufficient and 72 did not give a clear answer, out of the 500 people that participated in the survey. The Sydney Morning Herald’s numbers are slightly different: 233 negative, 223 positive and 44 unclear responses. The discrepancy can be put down to interpretation: the survey was full of qualitative data, and Honi did not categorise a response as a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ unless it directly, unambiguously answered the question.
Debate has intensified over whether USyd should accept the right-wing institute’s lucrative $25 million grant to establish a Western civilisation course.
The MoU states that the curriculum will be devised “solely by staff of the University”. Likewise, it says that teaching and marking will be “the sole responsibility of the University … free from any interference or oversight outside of normal university mechanisms”. However, the Centre can withdraw funding if it does not approve of the curriculum, and has some power over staffing and scholarships.
The University sent the survey to all staff from multiple faculties in September, and nearly all respondents have asked to remain anonymous.
MoU is ‘not sufficient’: 43%
Of the 215 who said the MOU is insufficient, 70 rejected the draft because they were generally concerned about the Centre’s political agenda. Some argued that funding would tie the University to the Centre.
“Any such relationship makes the University beholden to the donor,” one respondent said.
Others contended that any deal between the USyd and the Centre would undermine the University’s autonomy.
“No MoU can protect academic independence when the survival of a program depends only on the tick on approval from an external body.”
71 people opposed the MoU for similar, but more specific reasons. They argued that certain provisions give the Centre too much power over the University, such as the option for the Centre to ‘veto’ course content: “If, in the opinion of the Ramsay Centre, the final agreed curriculum does not fulfil the agreed scope and focus of the program the Centre has the right to indicate that it will not fund this program.”
They also criticised the provision that lets the Centre review the program after at least four years and, if it is unsatisfied, stop funding the University.
A significant number of respondents said that the Centre should not be represented on selection committees for scholarships and academic appointments. The draft states that the Centre will “be entitled to have one academic member of the Centre … on the scholarship selection committee” for the Western civilisation course, and one on the “normally constituted selection committees for those academic appointments funded using Ramsay funds.”
“Ramsay board members have made plain their wish to *promote* ‘Western civilisation’ through the centre,” said one respondent, writing that their presence on these committees “should be anathema to a university”.
18 staff members believed that the University shouldn’t focus on Western societies more than it already does. This group can be broken down into two categories: those who said that the Centre’s course is redundant because FASS already educates students about Western societies, and those who said that the University should abandon rather than intensify its ethnocentric focus.
“The use of the loaded word ‘civilisation’ valorises the object of study,” one respondent said.
Taking this idea further, another said, “The very title of the course is offensive, given the slavery, genocide, annihilation of cultures, cultural appropriation, theft of children and ongoing legacies of institutionalised racism … during and after the centuries of European colonisation.”
17 staff members said the provisions were too vague, for a number of reasons. Multiple people pointed out that the draft lets the Centre pull funding if it doesn’t like the “scope and focus” or “aims and outcomes” of the program, but the document doesn’t define these crucial terms.
MoU is ‘sufficient’: 42.6%
Of the 213 positive responses, 116 simply stated that the provisions are sufficient, with some staff members praising the program.
“It seems to be a rare opportunity for the university to offer courses in an area which is sadly lacking.”
Some people in the group said that the draft gives the University enough control over teaching, marking and the curriculum.
“The Ramsay Centre having one seat on each of the scholarship and appointment committees doesn’t seem to be an overreach on their behalf.”
And others emphasised the importance of studying Western societies.
“We have so many different subjects to study at the University, why not add another that will engage all student to think critically about Western Civilisation, as we do all other FASS subjects,” said one respondent.
Taking a harder line, another wrote, “Western Civilisation is a very important part of our history, and should be preserved at all cost. Why are people hell-bent on destroying our European culture and history?”
43 people said that the draft was sufficient but were still wary of working with the Centre.
“My concern is that the premise of the Ramsay initiative – that ‘Western Civilisation’ is not sufficiently honoured in the curriculum – is demonstrably not true,” one staff member said.
A select few argued that the University should relinquish their amount of control over the course.
“It should not be solely the University that decides the curriculum for the proposed courses,” one person commented. “The Ramsay Centre is providing the funding and should be able to monitor what is taught.”
38 people said agreed with the draft, but wanted to change or add provisions.
For instance, someone said, “It would be wonderful if there could be some indication that the study of Western Civilization needs to be critical and reflective, rather than adulatory.”
72 staff members said neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’—some respondents gave vague answers and others didn’t directly engage with the question, expressing frustration with USyd and the Centre instead. Some people were ideologically opposed to the Centre, while others were concerned about how the Centre’s political agenda would affect USyd, and some were worried about the Centre’s level of control over staffing and scholarships.
And some staff members just took aim at Spence.
“Sack Spence,” one wrote.
“Michael Spence as the Vice-Chancellor, a study in cowardice,” another said.
In the same vein, one respondent wrote “ditch the Ramsay you cowards” in response to every question.