They say it will ‘whitewash’ history
You don’t need us to tell you the humanities are in trouble across higher education, and not just in America.
That’s why Australian universities were eager to partner with a major donor that wants to support the humanities at their institutions, but their faculty and students aren’t necessarily on board.
The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation reached an agreement with the University of Queensland to fund “the hiring of 10 full-time academic staff and 150 scholarships for students who enroll in one of two undergraduate programs in Western civilization,” Inside Higher Ed reports. The classes will be capped at 10 students.
It’s the second 50 million Australian dollar ($34 million) donation made by Ramsay to a university for such a program. The first was to the University of Wollongong.
The UQ donation has a catch: The eight-year fixed term agreement allows Ramsey a seat on a four-academic panel that will review the program halfway through.
The Ramsey representative and the university rep will jointly pick the two other academics for the panel. While the outside organization also gets a seat on hiring committees, the memorandum of understanding limits the chairs of those committees to UQ senior management. The chairs have “the ultimate authority over the outcome of the selection process.”
Faculty and students don’t only object to the funding arrangement, which is being compared to Charles Koch Foundation* funding at U.S. universities. They object to a curriculum that may put Western civilization in a good light.
Prof. Andrew Bonnell, president of the university’s National Tertiary Education Union branch, said many of his members see Western civ as a “retrograde” approach that puts “a more positive face on the history of colonialism in Australia.”
The humanities board at Queensland has twice rejected the proposed “great books” curriculum, but a spokesperson for the university said the board does not have approval authority – it simply advises the humanities department chair. The curriculum was approved by a universitywide board.
Students opposed the proposed agreement back in May at a “general meeting” that drew about 500, Brisbane Times reported then. Students called the Ramsey Centre “racist” and said the program would “whitewash” Australian history. A humanities student, however, said the new program would not only deliver much-needed funding but balance the African and indigenous studies programs that Queensland already offers.
The Ramsey Centre is “for” Western civilization, not just interested in it as an academic concept, according to Tony Abbott, one of the two conservative former prime ministers on its board.
Opponents have reason to believe they can scare off UQ from finalizing the agreement.
Australian National University said it pulled out of talks with Ramsey last year because of “irreconcilable differences over the governance of the proposed program.” The center insisted that it simply would have a place at the table, while the university made all decisions on curriculum development and hiring.
So far the University of Sydney hasn’t been scared out of negotiations with Ramsey on a similar program.