‘Western civilisation’ curriculum rebuffed again at Queensland

Australian university says board of studies veto does not directly affect approval process

May 21, 2019
Statue of Plato, Academy of Athens, Greece
Source: iStock

Plans for philanthropically funded Western civilisation majors have met further opposition at the University of Queensland after the board of studies for the university’s humanities and social sciences faculty again rejected the programme.

In a statement to members, the Queensland branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) said the board had voted against approving the curriculum. The vote took place during an “extraordinary” meeting convened to consider revisions made after the board rejected the curriculum in April.

The statement cites concerns about academic freedom and university autonomy, and claims that the courses – to be funded by the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation – are “inferior” to the university’s current humanities offerings.

“This second rejection by the HASS board of studies surely means that if UQ management intend to honour their commitment to proper academic governance, they have no option but to drop the Ramsay proposal and cease negotiating with the Ramsay Centre,” the union says.

A university spokesman said the statement was “misleading” because the board of studies had only an advisory role. “It is not an approval body as implied by the NTEU,” the spokesman said.

He said the university would follow the normal approval process prescribed by its policies. “The feedback from the meeting will be considered carefully as the programme progresses through its standard governance process,” the spokesman said.

Proposals to run Ramsay-funded Western civilisation courses have met fierce opposition in several states and territories. The Australian National University called off negotiations with Ramsay last year, citing institutional autonomy concerns.

Ramsay remains in discussions with the universities of Sydney and Queensland, where hundreds of staff have campaigned against its proposals. Wollongong, the only university to so far announce an agreement with Ramsay, has been accused of sidestepping its own governance rules – triggering complaints to the higher education regulator and the New South Wales Supreme Court.

In February, Ramsay tried to defuse opposition by saying it would inscribe future agreements with statements of commitment to academic freedom. But in an open letter to the HASS board of studies, NTEU branch president Andrew Bonnell says “no amount of finessing” would make the proposal acceptable.

“The design of the Ramsay programme, in which funding is fixed-term and therefore [dependent] on a politically committed board…is structurally opposed to precepts of academic freedom and autonomy, whatever commitments the Ramsay Centre may sign up to,” the letter says.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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