This month has seen a sudden upsurge in the culture wars between the conservatives and mainstream academia. It has centred upon the offer of a substantial donation to the Australian National University by the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation for a bachelor degree and an accompanying scholarship program.
The Centre is chaired by John Howard and has Tony Abbott on its board.
Abbott wrote in Quadrant about its purpose with what Eureka Street described as ‘the clincher:’ “ Almost entirely absent from the contemporary educational mindset was any sense that cultures might not be all equal and that truth might not be entirely relative.” [6 June 2018 Eureka Street].
Eureka Street put it very succinctly: “This is supremacist stuff, and also massively ignorant. Sophistication in art, literature and science has never been a monopoly of the west, unless a case could be made that the rest of the world were somehow less human.”
The Vice Chancellor of the ANU issued a statement which pointed out “ANU Centres have received donations from a range of countries in addition to funds from government and industry. In all cases, ANU retains control of both curriculum and staffing decisions.” [5 June 2018].
It could not accept the claims of the Ramsay Centre to control curriculum and staffing.
The IPA quickly let it be known this rejection was “a terrible indictment on the state of our universities”.
Then the Australian Jewish Association accused the Australian National University of having been “Islamised.”
“We have been quite blunt in raising the question of whether ANU has been Islamised,” Dr Adler told The Australian. “We have seen Islamic countries invest in university education around the world very substantially and we know that ANU has a program of Arabic and Islamic studies and received millions in funding from Arab and Islamic countries.” [12 June, 2018 The Australian].
The Vice Chancellor pointed out in his statement: “The Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies received one-off donations from the private Al-Maktoum Foundation in Dubai, the Iranian Ministry of Education, and the Turkish Government in 2000-2001.
All these donations were matched by ANU, enabling the Centre to have a dedicated building, establish four endowments supported positions in Arab and Islamic Studies, Persian Language and Turkish language and studies. All its activities, including appointments, have been under the exclusive control of the university.
The Centre, which receives its operating budget from the University, is a great success story, with more than 1,000 undergraduate and over 200 graduate students, as well as some 20-25 PhD students a year.
The intensity of the attack on our national university is clear evidence of the intention of the Ramsay Centre.
Richard Denniss pointed out just how intense the attack has been.
“After the ANU expressed concern that the Ramsay Centre might seek excessive influence that would impede academic freedom, the university was openly criticised by a prime minister, a former prime minister, a raft of front benchers and prominent national commentators. Put simply, the ferocity and power of the attack on the ANU is the clearest proof that they made the right decision.” [16 June 2018 The Age].
The ANU is to be applauded for its loyalty to the most basic foundations of “Western Civilisation,” namely the protection of freedom of enquiry and devotion to the search for truth.
However the saga has not yet concluded.
Realising that Sydney University would be the next target, more than 100 academics from that institution signed a letter opposing this “European supremacism writ large.” [8 June SMH].
The SRC organised a petition to the Vice Chancellor, warning: “Ramsay Centre CEO Simon Haines has said they will review all course content, not hire teachers who have criticised Western civilisation and will withdraw funding if they think the course isn’t sufficiently pro-West.”
The response of the Vice Chancellor was that “…he would not be prepared to accept a Ramsay Centre gift that endorsed a narrative in which Australian universities were “dominated by a certain ‘leftist’ propaganda that needs to be countered by a certain ‘conservative’ propaganda”. [11 June AFR].
That is not a complete rejection.
The Ramsay Centre is showing some signs of retreating from the triumphalist position with its CEO (not Tony Abbott) stating: “But normal academic processes would be followed, and the centre would have no power of veto. If the centre didn’t like the direction in which the university took the course, it would withdraw.” [21 June, SMH]. i.e. we will just take away your financial support!
We will watch with bated breath, concerned for the ability of our academic institutions to resist donor control of enquiry and research.