Teach­ing Western civil­i­sa­tion could be­come so risky that the army might be needed

Ed­mund Capon has some ad­vice for those who ex­hort us to be in­tol­er­ant of prej­u­dice

The Australian - - COMMENTARY -

Janet Albrechtsen on civil­i­sa­tion, The Week­end Aus­tralian, Satur­day: A course on Western civil­i­sa­tion was thrown out by Aus­tralian Na­tional Uni­ver­sity cen­sors a few months ago, and a sim­i­lar group is de­ter­mined to do the same at the Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney. On Mon­day, there were se­cu­rity guards out­side a fac­ulty meet­ing … If they agree to a course on the great books of lit­er­a­ture, will Syd­ney Uni­ver­sity need to call in the army to en­sure lessons pro­ceed? The Ram­say Cen­tre’s web­site: Our ob­jec­tive … is “to ad­vance edu- cation by pro­mot­ing stud­ies and dis­cus­sion as­so­ci­ated with the es­tab­lish­ment and de­vel­op­ment of Western civil­i­sa­tion …” The Aus­tralian Fi­nan­cial Re­view, Septem­ber 13: Aca­demic staff at the Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land are push­ing back against their man­age­ment, which is in talks with the Ram­say Cen­tre over a course that be­came con­tro­ver­sial when for­mer prime min­is­ter and Ram­say Cen­tre board mem­ber Tony Ab­bott said it would be “in favour” of Western civil­i­sa­tion. Branch pres­i­dent of the Na- tional Ter­tiary Ed­u­ca­tion Union at UQ, An­drew Bon­nell, said aca­demic free­dom was pro­tected in the staff en­ter­prise bar­gain­ing agree­ment and the union would re­sist any­thing that did not let them teach or re­search with­out fear or favour. Peter An­stey, pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy at Syd­ney Uni­ver­sity, Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald, Septem­ber 13: The de­bate about a Ram­say Cen­tre­funded pro­gram in Western civil­i­sa­tion … gen­er­ated plenty of heat but very lit­tle light. De­nun­ci­a­tions and as­ser­tions about “sell­ing in­tel­lec­tual free­dom to the high­est bid­der” and de­valu­ing the study of other cul­tures make great click­bait but, in the end, un­der­mine the in­tegrity and ef­fort of the many aca­demics at Syd­ney and other in­sti­tu­tions who have de­voted their schol­arly lives to un­der­stand­ing and teach­ing about Western civilis- ation — and by most mea­sures Syd­ney has more of them than any other uni­ver­sity in Aus­tralia. Luke Slat­tery steps into the den, The Aus­tralian, Au­gust 20: Vice-chan­cel­lor Michael Spence cer­tainly has noth­ing to fear from stu­dent op­po­si­tion. I at­tended a talk re­cently at which a stu­dent and an aca­demic spoke on the rather neb­u­lous sub­ject — “the myth of Western civil­i­sa­tion”. I counted an au­di­ence of 22 … There would have been more peo­ple queu­ing at any one mo­ment for lat­tes at the cof­fee shop out­side. Slat­tery con­tin­ues: I was there to hear the case against the Ram­say pro­posal from the peo­ple at whom the course is tar­geted: stu­dents and early ca­reer aca­demics. Both speeches (no one seems to have been in­vited to put the case for) were rather heavy on Marx­ist rhetoric. Yet Karl Marx, who re-read Aeschy­lus’s Prometheus Bound ev­ery year for in­spi­ra­tion and did his doc­toral the­sis on Greek … was a child of the Euro­pean En­light­en­ment. For­mer di­rec­tor to the Art Gallery of NSW Ed­mund Capon in The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald, Satur­day: Among the ex­hor­ta­tions of those op­pos­ing the Ram­say Cen­tre’s Western civil­i­sa­tion de­gree (course) I read a call for uni­ver­si­ties to “stand up un­equiv­o­cally to Euro­pean cul­tural supremacism”. I un­equiv­o­cally dis­agree and won­der how and why those who so earnestly and pi­ously ex­hort us to be in­tol­er­ant of any prej­u­dice should end up be­ing the shrill, petty and shal­low ped­lars of just that — prej­u­dice; sound­ing like the dis­af­fected shat­ter­ing of glass splin­ter­ing on the flag­stones of history.

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