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What now? USyd’s eerie silence over Ramsay Centre partnership

4 possibilities. 4 outcomes. The future of USyd-Ramsay negotiations

Three months have passed since the last update on the University of Sydney’s (USyd) negotiations with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation. The Centre, however, has not been idle.

The University of Wollongong (UOW) signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with the Ramsay Centre in mid-December 2018. This week, the UOW Academic Senate voted in a 28-16 decision to formally object to the fast tracked approval of the Bachelor of Arts (Western Civilisation). Despite this, UOW senior management simply noted this objection, reaffirming that the degree would start as planned.

The University of Queensland (UQ) remains locked in negotiations with the Ramsay Centre.

All these discussions follow the Australian National University’s rejection of a partnership with the Ramsay Centre, citing concerns over academic freedom.

The Ramsay Centre must be viewed as part of a broader university funding context where underfunded universities take private money from unscrupulous industries like the fossil fuels and arms manufacturing industries. Our universities are not guided by principles of social justice, but by money and profit.

UQ has taken $13.5 million from the current executive chairman of DowDuPont. DowDuPont is a corporation responsible for numerous environmental and humanitarian disasters. Amongst it’s achievements, it holds the unenviable status  being the last company to cease the production of napalm during the Vietnam War. USyd has $13 million invested in fossil fuel corporations such as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and AGL.

It is little surprise then that these universities would consider teaching the colonial and elitist Ramsay Centre curriculum. An indicative curriculum for the BA (Western Civilisation) provided by the Ramsay Centre sees only three weeks of the entire three-year course dedicated to “comparative literature,” affirming Board Member Tony Abbott’s own words that the Centre remains “in favour” of Western Civilisation.  This governing logic of university management can be used to speculate about the future of USyd’s negotiations with the Ramsay Centre.

The makeup of the Ramsay Centre Board ranges from conservative union officials to corporate elites to former conservative Liberal Prime Ministers. The money to found the Ramsay Centre was left as a bequest by Paul Ramsay, a Liberal Party donor who made his fortune from privatised healthcare. The governing logic of the Ramsay Centre board is money and conservative ideology.

The Ramsay deal at UOW — which was kept completely secret until the MOU was announced — is thus far the first and only signed Ramsay deal. It’s announcement also coincides with the beginning of a radio silence over Ramsay from USYD.

This raises two key possibilities. The first key possibility is that the Ramsay Board is less concerned with USyd negotiations now that another university in New South Wales has signed on. If this is true, then there are several paths negotiations could follow.

The future possibilities of a USyd and Ramsay Centre Partnership: James Newbold
The future possibilities of a USyd and Ramsay Centre Partnership: Flowchart by James Newbold

In fact, the Ramsay board may have given up on USyd completely. A Centre Spokeswoman told Honi that negotiations with USyd remain “ongoing,” although they refused to comment on the specifics of negotiations.

USyd NTEU Branch Secretary Kurt Iveson told Honi he had “not received any updates” about Ramsay so far this year.

University Senate Undergraduate Fellow Francis Tamer did not respond to questions from Honi.

Activist pressure from USyd students and staff has forced negotiation concessions including watering down the Western Civilisation degree into a “Western Tradition” major and reducing restrictions on academic freedom. From the Ramsay Board’s perspective, the UOW deal is far superior and may make a deal at USyd redundant.

Alternatively, USyd negotiations may be on the backburner as the Ramsay board focuses on UQ negotiations and preparation for the commencement of teaching at UOW in Autumn 2020 — the Ramsay Centre has already begun hiring staff at UOW.

The second, more worrying possibility is that negotiations are continuing in the new context of Ramsay having a signed deal under their belt in New South Wales. When Ramsay had been rejected by the ANU, USyd was in a stronger negotiating position to ask for small concessions under protest from staff and students.

But the recent UOW deal for an entire Ramsay degree potentially flips the entire power dynamic, forcing USyd to adopt UOW management’s method of secret negotiations. Concessions might now be reversed as USyd desperately attempts to secure the Ramsay board’s funding.

All these paths lead to the same conclusion for student activists and staff. We need to double down until Ramsay’s defeat is certain, and we must direct our solidarity to universities like UOW and UQ who are fighting the very real possibilities of Ramsay being taught on campus.

A USyd Spokesperson told Honi that they are still waiting for a response to their proposed MOU, “and will update our University community once we have further information to report.”

The Senate, USyd’s highest governing body, will meet tomorrow in a meeting which may well discuss and possibly advance the future of the Ramsay Centre at USyd.