The backlash from University of Wollongong’s deal with the Ramsay Centre has seen one visiting fellow resign in protest and many others considering following suit.
Visiting fellow Sarah Keenan has quit after the university surprised and angered academics by accepting a Ramsay Centre-funded degree in Western Civilisation without consulting staff.
In a letter to the Mercury, UOW Fellow Dr Paul Sharrad said in part “now I am sadly wondering whether there is any real fellowship in the institution, and whether I want to be a Fellow any longer”.
The former Associate Professor, English Literatures and Honorary Senior Fellow, Faculty of Arts Law and Humanities, said UOW’s primary consideration appears to be money.
“My trust in university management has been so tarnished that I find it hard to believe there is real commitment to open collegiality, genuine scholarship and community benefit,” Dr Sharrad said.
He added accepting a Ramsay-sponsored curriculum narrows what students get to study.
“In doing so it marginalises the heritages of a sizeable proportion of Australian students. In a university that otherwise claims to be inclusive and to have a global vision, this is a glaring contradiction,” Dr Sharrad said.
Now I am sadly wondering whether there is any real fellowship in the institution, and whether I want to be a Fellow any longer.Dr Paul Sharrad
The deal with UOW,came only after the Australian National University pulled out of negotiations citing threats to academic freedom.
Leigh Dale was one of six other UOW academics who wrote a letter to the Mercury expressing their concerns about the Ramsay Centre deal.
The letter signed by the six academics was also sent to UOW Vice-Chancellor Paul Wellings.
It stated that the academics were concerned that UOW had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ramsay Centre, “to establish a degree program in “Western Civilisation” separate from the teaching in creative arts, history, languages, literature, and philosophy currently undertaken in the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts”.
They wrote Neo-fascist forces often claim to base their ideology and symbology on valuing "their own civilisational heritage", as the Ramsay Centre website describes its mission.
The program they said was “out of step with twenty-first century academic thought, out of step with modem Australian society, and utterly at odds with the thoughts, feelings and traditions of University of Wollongong students and staff, past, present, and future”.
“If the program were a good idea, it would have survived that test fundamental not only to academic freedom but to democratic life: public debate, and consideration in the appropriate fora of the university that are devoted to strengthening its reputation for scholarship and teaching excellence.”
Under the deal made public on Monday, The Ramsay Centre will pay for 10 academics to teach the three-year degree, and give 30 students a year more than $27,000 each towards their living expenses while they study.
UOW is the first university to accept the money, which is part of a bequest from the late healthcare magnate Paul Ramsay.
But the course has been deeply controversial at ANU and Sydney University where it was also proposed, with many academics saying it was “European supremacism” and accusing the centre of trying to push a right-wing agenda.
While many staff and students have rubbished the degree, some thought it was a good idea.
Figtree man Bob Patrech wrote to the Mercury to applaud UOW for taking up the offer and “standing up to the left-biased academics and students”.
In a staement, UOW said [course] graduates would emerge as critical thinkers prepared for a wide range of jobs within the knowledge economy.
“These might include roles in public policy and administration, advocacy, research and academia. They would also be able to combine the broad perspectives gained during their studies in this degree with the professional skills developed in their double degree program.”