Three strikes and the Ramsay Western Civ Centre is out

Uni Sydney has had three goes at course proposals but the Ramsay Western Civ Centre won’t be writing a cheque

After a year plus of off-and-on discussions the Centre has ended negotiations with the University of Sydney.

What this is about: The Ramsay Centre’s offer is $50m over eight years to create and teach a degree on western civilisation, which includes funds for specially-hired academic staff and student scholarships. The universities of Queensland and Wollongong both start Ramsay funded degrees next year.

According to CEO Simon Haines, the University of Sydney submitted a proposal in May 2018, which the Centre’s board liked, but then came back with a further two alternatives, “different to the model we had indicated support for.”

Sydney not united: The problem for Uni Sydney VC Michael Spence was that he was not only negotiating with the Ramsay board but with university staff adamantine in their opposition to accepting Ramsay money. The very idea of a degree in western civ is widely considered on campus to be morally contestable and academically unacceptable.

A second idea: Dr Spence appeared to attempt to address campus concerns in September with less a variation than re-write of the original prop that appealed to the Ramsay Centre. He suggested creating a western civ major from 130 existing subjects and to distribute the scholarship funding widely, providing small sums for 1100 students, rather than for annual cohorts of 30 students receiving $30 000 per annum for up to five years, (CMM September 19).

And a third: When that was a no-go for Ramsay, a group of Uni Sydney academics, philosophy professor, Peter Anstey and colleagues, went to the Ramsay Centre with an independent variation on the Spence scheme. This included a canonical works unit, which Ramsay-people wanted, and a cap on the number of students to be funded.

But content wasn’t king: Close observers of the Ramsay Centre, staff and board, say Spence and Spence-light appealed to some and Professor Haines says, there were attractive features regarding both its content and administration.” However, he added yesterday, “the centre and its board had misgivings about the level of commitment of key stakeholders, within the university in supporting the implementation of the curriculum and the associated scholarship program. Further delays also seemed inevitable.”

So that’s it – and Ramsay has no need to rush. With Uni Queensland signed-up it has the status a Group of Eight institution confers in conservative quarters.


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