Western civilisation course talks continue after ANU row

Ramsay Centre insists that negotiations with other institutions are under way

June 20, 2018
Derailed

A controversial degree on Western civilisation has not been torpedoed by the breakdown of negotiations with a Canberra university, according to the philanthropic centre behind the proposed course.

The Ramsay Centre said that it was talking to a “significant number” of other institutions about offering the degree, after the Australian National University last month ruled out hosting it.

Ramsay chief executive Simon Haines declined to name the universities that he was negotiating with, but said that he expected the talks to be concluded within months.

The ANU provoked an in-house revolt after it entered discussions over the degree, which some staff consider to be elitist and colonialist. The university subsequently triggered an outcry by pulling out of the talks, claiming that the degree would have compromised its autonomy.

The University of Sydney has courted similar controversy by signalling an interest in offering the degree.

But many staff have argued that the works and ideas of “white men” had been overanalysed and that more attention was needed on the intellectual output of women and minority groups.

The proposed degree would be funded from the estate of deceased health magnate Paul Ramsay. His donation would bankroll up to 36 academics at three universities along with some 90 undergraduate scholarships, each worth about A$25,000 (£14,000) a year for up to five years.

As well as undergraduate degrees, the centre plans to offer about 25 “very generous” scholarships enabling postgraduates to study at “prestigious overseas universities”.

Professor Haines said that the only requirement would be that recipients’ research had a Western civilisation “dimension”. The support would be offered through an open nationwide competition and would be comparable in value to the Rhodes scholarships, he added.

He said that the centre also planned activities outside universities, such as public lectures or boardroom lunches where “great topics, books and texts in Western civilisation” would be discussed.

These could take place in both urban and rural areas. The idea was to “generally foster interest in Western civilisation – its achievements, its distinct traditions, its practices and its texts”.

The centre has already rolled out a distinguished lecture series, so far featuring the Australian novelist David Malouf and the controversial historian Geoffrey Blainey. Also on the programme are the conservative economist Henry Ergas and the literature expert Panayiotis Kanelos, president of St John’s College in Annapolis, which offers the type of liberal arts degree that the Ramsay Centre hopes to emulate.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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