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USU urges University to tread carefully in Ramsay Centre proposal

Lachlan Finch opposed the motion and a Senate-appointed Director abstained

Lachlan Finch "Forward with the Ramsay Centre"

The University of Sydney Union (USU) voted today to pass a motion urging the University of Sydney (USyd) Senate to refrain from implementing a degree in partnership with the Ramsay Centre if the curriculum is likely to encourage the idealisation of Western Civilisation over other cultures and areas of study, or infringe upon academic independence.

The motion, proposed by Nick Forbutt (NLS), was passed with 10 members voting in favour. Lachlan Finch (Mod Lib) voted against, and both Cady Brown (Mod Lib) and Jane Drummond (SAD) abstained.

The motion was amended prior to voting, removing a reference to the “right-wing leaders” on the Centre’s board, as requested by Senate-appointed Director Marie Leech.

Leech made reference to the presence of “left-wing” leaders on the Board also, presumably referring to those such as union leader Joe de Bruyn, who has publicly opposed same-sex marriage and abortion.

The motion was proposed in response to Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence’s email to USyd staff last week, detailing his intent to seek funding from the Ramsay Centre for a major in “Western Tradition” within the Bachelor of Advanced Studies. 

That announcement followed months of quiet on the status of the Ramsay Centre negotiations with the University. 

Spence’s email has divided academic staff. In a recent open letter signed by more than 60 staff, Staff Against Ramsay renounced Spence’s proposal, which has not been made available to staff, for offering “curricula for sale to the Ramsay Centre” whose Board members carry “racist and patriarchal views”, whilst disregarding staff and student responses.

On Monday, the Autonomous Collective Against Racism (ACAR) and the Education Action Group (EAG) organised a protest on Eastern Avenue against the new Ramsay proposal, as well as against the presence of Nazi groups on campus as revealed by an Honi Soit investigation last week.

USU Board Member Maya Eswaran (Grassroots) also drew a connection between these issues when speaking in favour of the motion, stating that “with revelations of a network of neo-Nazis on campus, students are particularly afraid and need a university that stands up for the marginalised.”

“Racism, colonialism and white supremacy are not isolated events, and are upheld by the formal structures of the university.”

SRC co-Education Officer James Newbold said  “We need as many student organisations taking up the fight to Ramsay as possible. By voting strongly in favour of the motion, the USU has sent a strong message that student activists can back up with action.

“The Ramsay Centre will never be able to meet the USU’s demands that academic content allow for critical, pluralistic perspectives and not elevate Western civilisation over others.”

More to come.