First details emerge of USyd’s Western civilisation course

The proposed course will not be evaluative or comparative.

During Tuesday’s Academic Board meeting, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence confirmed USyd will be entering into talks with the Ramsay Centre to negotiate terms for a proposed course in Western civilisation.

The confirmation comes after fierce opposition from over 100 USyd academics, who have signed an open letter condemning any partnership with the Centre over concerns that academic collaboration will propagate the Centre’s “conservative, culturally essentialist, and Eurocentric vision.”

Prominent members of the Ramsay Centre Board, such as former Liberal Party prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott, have stated on separate occasions that the Centre’s chief purpose is to promote an appreciation for Western “high culture”. Appearing cognisant of the controversy, the Vice-Chancellor requested  the discussion about the Ramsay Centre be censured from Tuesday’s minutes, stating “there are some cultural warriors on the Ramsay Centre board.” 

Professor Peter Anstey, responsible for preparing a draft outline of the potential USyd course, claimed that the course was “fabulous” and did not “look like anything you have read in the papers.”

Projected to be run by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), the course will not be evaluative or comparative, according to Professor Anstey. It will not make an assessment of the merits of Western civilisation nor compare Western civilisation to other civilisations.

Referencing the underfunding of humanities in tertiary education, the Vice-Chancellor emphasised it would be “irresponsible” to not engage in conversation with the Ramsay Centre, which is offering potentially millions of dollars of funding.

He clarified that USyd’s negotiations with the Ramsay Centre will be governed by a Memorandum of Understanding, which will outline non-negotiable terms, although details of these are unclear. The Vice-Chancellor has stated, “There may be genuine differences between us and the Ramsay Centre…[although] I have to say so far we have not seen that.”

He went on to state, “[The Australian National University’s] dealing with [the Ramsay Centre] did not reflect our experience[…]”

The Centre was previously in talks with ANU over funding for a proposed new Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation before talks broke down. ANU’s Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt implied in a blog post that the Centre wanted control over hiring staff and determining the curriculum.

If USyd’s conversation with the Centre is positive, the two institutions will still have to enter into a funding agreement, after which the course will require approval by the Undergraduate Studies Committee and the Academic Board before it can be introduced into the FASS curriculum.

More to come.