UniSydney to consider Ramsay Civ Centre plan

UniSydney steps up: With ANU out the University of Sydney is talking to the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation about picking up a degree programme and presumably the bucket of money Ramsay has to pay for it. Vice Chancellor Michael Spence has briefed Academic Board on “the possibility of financial support for teaching at the university” adding “any program attracting such support would need to go through the usual processes for course development and approval and the university cannot do anything that threatens its academic freedom or integrity.”  Word is that the board discussed the possibility “at length”.

Opportunities for opponents: If university management did decide to negotiate an arrangement with Ramsay it would not just be Academic Board that would need convincing. UniSyd has one of the most politically engaged  communities in the country and many of them do not like conservatives on campus. There was a professorial-protest in September 2016 when the university awarded an hon doc to former prime minister John Howard. “To confer a doctorate on him is an insult to Indigenous people, refugees, and anyone committed to multiculturalism, peace and social progress in this country and in the world,” a protest stated.

If ANU is any indication there will be staff who would now oppose engaging with the Ramsay Centre, which Mr Howard chairs.

Process may provide them with an opportunity:  The University of Sydney’s new enterprise agreement (clauses 320-325) requires workload allocation policies, “developed by a collegiate committee involving members of the academic staff including a representative of casual academic staff. They will then be put to a specially convened meeting of academic staff in the academic work unit for approval (including casual representation).”

It is hard to see how staff teaching Ramsay Centre courses for University of Sydney degrees could sit outside this requirement and it is easy to imagine how imaginative staffers could use the process to criticise the Ramsay programme.

If the fate of the Lomborg research centre proposal at UWA is any indication ways this could create big problems for management. When the possibility of a staff vote in the UWA business school, where the Lomborg centre was to sit, was canvassed, the deal was dropped the following day. (CMM May 11 2015).

A big challenge for Spence: There is no faulting Michael Spence for being game to have a go at what is now a high-risk proposal. If the university looks like going ahead there may well be uproar on campus – which is what occurred at UWA when the Lomborg prop was in play.

If the university considers the Ramsay Centre but decides not to proceed, conservatives will claim the VC buckled under staff pressure and look at other sources of funding it does accept. ANU VC Brian Schmidt was out yesterday again explaining the decision not to proceed with Ramsay and defending the funding the university accepts for the Centre for Arabic and Islamic Studies. This is not good for ANU. However unfair, credibility that needs defending, is credibility compromised.


to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education