At the 2 October meeting of Academic Board the Provost Stephen Garton presented the memorandum of understanding the University will be presenting to the Ramsay Centre . They are still in negotiations with a view to form a partnership and establish a Bachelor of Western Civilisation at the University of Sydney.
The Ramsay proposal has been met with intense opposition from both students and academics within the Faculty of Arts. The debate from students was particularly critical. Students made the case that we are introducing stratification in public education and within FASS. 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 and Arab studies for example.
It is a kick in the face to those students and staff in faculties where units are being shut down for having small cohorts due to not enough student demand – but Ramsay can buy its way into being the exception. At a collective level it gives the false impression that studies of Western Civilisation are disadvantaged and those students should be afforded exceptional learning conditions out of reach to the rest of the students in the faculty.
And while academics are trying to make great strides in emphasising diversity, appreciating different knowledge systems, the introduction of this Centre would be a retrograde step. Moreover, treating the West as an unproblematized category and introducing the Centre will also inevitably create the most drawn out academic dispute of recent decades – in size with the splits in the Philosophy and Economics departments. 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.
Academics came out in full throttle as well. The final questioner posited that the University’s processes are being “corrupted by finance”. She asked whether there was a clear rationale for a specific emphasis on Western Civilisation outside of the already existing courses in the classics, history, philosophy and so on. Anti-Ramsay FASS academics have made clear a positive vision for education in the 21st Century and why the Centre’s proposal creates a risk to this intellectual progress. Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence was unable to answer this question and make a case for whether there was demand for a Bachelor of Western Civilisation before the Ramsay Centre came along with millions of dollars to purchase the course.
Finally, over the weekend over 50 USYD fundraising staff were fired with one days notice. A statement from the former call centre workers states that “the call centre was closed suddenly on Saturday 6 October and our employment terminated. We were notified of this decision at 3:40 pm on Friday 5 October, less than 24 hours before our final shift. To add insult to injury, the decision was conveyed to us not face-to-face or over the phone but via email”.
The closure comes after a series of disputes over pay and work conditions between the centre and the employees. Fundraising staff are paid 25 percent less than other University employees as the staff are contracted out to a third party, Ruffalo Noel Levitz, rather than the University. On top of that, advertisements list the pay $30.58 and $36.70, however, employers were only paid between $26.14 and $31.37. When the pay discrepancy was raised, the managers assured workers that they would receive back-pay. Later the Director of Operations recanted management’s assurances and informed workers they would not be back-paid. Honi Soit also reported of another worker who claimed that they had been promised a $100 gift card, for receiving the most donations in one night, however the card was only loaded with $40.
“Many of us have been put into extremely difficult financial situations, as we have been given no time at all to find alternate sources of income. This is particularly the case for international students who worked in the centre, students who already pay so much money to the University of Sydney and have greatly restricted work rights because of their visa requirements” says the statement from the former fundraising workers. These workers have been severely exploited by Ruffalo Noel Levitz and the University of Sydney and deserve answers about the closure of the centre and to be reinstated as in-house call centre employees.
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