Ramsay Centre representatives will be allowed to sit on key committees overseeing the USyd western civilisation course it proposes to fund, according to a memorandum of understanding drafted by the University. The Ramsay Centre, which is offering funding for the course, has not yet seen or agreed to the draft.
Honi has obtained a copy of the MoU, which is “designed to set the foundation” for an agreement between the two bodies. Its other terms include “the principle of academic freedom”, USyd control over curricula, teaching and marking, and a commitment to eight years of funding from the Centre.
The full text of the MoU was on Monday emailed to all USyd staff, who have been invited to fill out a survey to “contribute their views” on the document. The survey is “not a vote or plebiscite”, the email clarifies.
Staff are being asked whether they think the MoU protects academic freedom, and what they would add or remove from the draft.
The University has set up a page on the staff intranet, where it answers questions frequently asked about the Ramsay MoU. There it explains that students are not being asked to give feedback. Instead,
According to the FAQ page, the Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence will summarise the feedback for the Senate, which will then review and edit the MoU if necessary.
If the Ramsay Centre then accepts the MoU in the current form, “it is envisaged that negotiations with regard to a possible philanthropic gift will proceed”.
In comments to the Sydney Morning Herald, Spence spoke positively of the consultation process. “ I have been proud of the respectful tone of our debate regarding these issues so far, when so much of the external commentary has been rather shrill.”
Under the MoU, the University alone will be responsible for developing the curriculum for the proposed course. The Ramsay Centre can, however, refuse to fund the curriculum if it does not fulfill the “purposes of the programme”. The MoU is silent on what the programme’s purposes actually are.
The Centre will also be represented on two important committees—one responsible for academic staffing decisions, and the other for awarding scholarships. The Centre will appoint one representative to each. The appointees must be “academic member[s] of the Centre”, meaning Ramsay directors like former Liberal prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott are ineligible.
The prospect of Ramsay appointees is already attracting criticism. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, David Brophy, a USyd lecturer in Chinese history and Ramsay skeptic, has voiced concern:
“One of [the MoU’s] principles is that we will be solely responsible for the appointment of academic staff, but then it says that Ramsay will have a representative on the hiring committee,” he said.
The MoU also indicates that the University’s normal admissions procedures will apply to the programme, meaning students will apply for the course like they would any other. Students will also be free to include the proposed course in other degree programmes, including alongside a second major or as part of a double degree.
The criteria for awarding scholarships under the programme will be decided by the Centre and the University. However, the MoU specifies that“financial disadvantage should be one of the criteria considered”.
If the Centre agrees to the terms of the MoU, it will have to fund the course for at least eight years. After four cohorts of students have started the programme, the Centre will have the right to run an “international academic review” of the course. At that stage, it will be entitled to terminate funding, though it must complete its eight-year commitment. It can also decide to renew funding for “a further period”.
Teaching and marking will be the “sole responsibility” of the University. The University will also be able to “second” staff to the course, retasking them from other teaching roles. It is unclear whether staff may refuse secondment if they do not wish to teach under the Ramsay programme.