Uni Queensland releases proposal for Ramsay western civ centre degrees

The University of Queensland has put to staff a detailed proposal for degrees funded by the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

VC Peter Hoj told staff yesterday that the university’s leadership had submitted an expression of interest to Ramsay in October, with both sides agreeing last month, a partnership is “desirable and achievable.”

What’s not negotiable: The university is adamant that there will only be a deal if “independence and academic freedom are respected and adhered to. … The principle of the university’s independence with regard to academic decisions is a red-line issue for UQ. This point was recognised and understood in the discussion with the Ramsay Centre board of directors.”

The proposal includes: a structure for two degrees, a bachelor of advanced humanities and bachelor of humanities – LLB. And it specifies close study of texts in small classes led by “an experienced academic staff member.”

It also includes extensive subject details and comprehensive reading lists, which point to the core of the university’s case for proceeding and its response to criticism that ‘western civilisation” is weighed by “assumptions of ethnocentrism.”

“I understand why concerns about this language have been expressed; there is no doubting the historical fact that violent colonisation was undertaken by countries that believed themselves to be ‘civilised’ while at the same time dehumanising colonial subjects,” Professor Hoj states.

“At the same time, there are good academic reasons for future humanities scholars to study courses in western civilisation. Colonisation, slavery and war are part of the historical record, but so are breakthroughs in medical science; the development of democratic institutions; and a rich artistic and literary legacy. Shouldn’t we be teaching both ‘worlds’? More importantly, by teaching in a pluralistic way, we are encouraging very talented young people to be rigorous and reflective about how we best develop fair, prosperous and cohesive societies,” he argues.

“The proposed pedagogy is designed to not only recover the meaning of the ‘great books’, but also to critically evaluate their value and significance.”

First responses: This may not be enough for campus critics of a deal. National Tertiary Education Union state secretary Michael McNally was quick to warn last night, “members have expressed concerns that if a programme is characterised as promoting a conservative conception of “western civilisation”, it would run the risk of overshadowing UQ’s engagement with non-western societies and cultures, and cut across UQ’s efforts at promoting reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

However until now overall opposition on the UoQ campus to the prospect of negotiations has been more restrained than last year’s furores at ANU and the University of Sydney.  Last night NTEU branch university branch president Andrew Bonnell said, “Professor Høj has publicly committed to ‘being transparent and engaging with the university community’ and has said that any MOU with Ramsay would be a public document. … We would expect that any draft MOU would have to be made public and be held up to scrutiny before any deal is signed.”

What’s next: The university has made a polished and comprehensive case for the proposed degrees. It is now open for campus community comment until February 14.

 A win for Ramsay. While Ramsay did what looks like a fail-safe deal with the University of Wollongong late last year, an agreement with a Group of Eight university will appeal to its support base.  The long lists of texts and course contents have a substance that the Ramsay Centre board is surely seeking.  And reaching terms with UoQ means Ramsay could hold the line in any negotiations with the University of Sydney, where management may want concessions to sell any proposal to sceptical staff.


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