Professor takes on Ramsay naysayers
A top executive at the University of Sydney has accused academic opponents of Ramsay Centre funding of “conspiracy theory” thinking and basing their complaints on “logical absurdity”.
In an email widely distributed within the university this week, provost Stephen Garton strongly defended the university’s negotiations with The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation to gain funding to teach a “great books” course drawn from the Western canon. Seven departments in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences — media and communications, sociology and social policy, anthropology, political economy, government and international relations, English and history — have publicly urged the university to reject Ramsay money.
Professor Garton, who is the senior deputy to vice-chancellor Michael Spence, rejected the assertion that a Ramsay-funded course would compromise academic values.
“The frame of reference here (of Ramsay opponents) is an implication that if we breathe any Ramsay air at all we will immediately become infected and diseased,” he wrote in the email sent on Wednesday. “I have far more confidence in the intellectual robustness and resilience of our colleagues than that.”
Professor Garton’s email is the latest in a back-and-forth debate within the university about the draft terms of agreement for the planned course which the university has sent to Ramsay.
It is a public rebuttal of another email circulated widely within the university by a prominent Ramsay critic, politics professor John Keane, on November 1. “It (the Ramsay-sponsored course) dog-whistles in the direc- tion of bigoted defenders of an imaginary ‘West’,” Professor Keane wrote. He also said the university’s planned name change of the course from “Western civilisation” to “Western tradition” was window dressing and “must already have been discussed and cleared informally by the Ramsay Centre board.”
In response, Professor Garton said the accusation was “lacking any evidence whatsoever”.
“There was no such ‘clearance’ beforehand — informal or formal. But the confident assertion in your letter reveals the ‘conspiracy theory’ thinking informing some of your claims,” he said.
Professor Garton said he was also concerned by the “pejorative language of lucre” employed by some critics of the university’s potential partnership with the Ramsay Centre.
He said the university received philanthropic funding of about $100 million a year which was “vital support in an age of declining public funding” and that funds from donors were commonly directed for a particular purpose.
“There is a logical absurdity in the complaint (from Ramsay opponents) that the funds are for some humanities disciplines and not for some of the social sciences,” Professor Garton said.
“Does this mean we shouldn’t accept funding for renal cancer because it is not also for bowel cancer, that we shouldn’t accept a chair in Celtic studies because it is not more broadly European studies, that we shouldn’t accept funding for a position in near eastern archaeology because it is not also classical archaeology, that we wouldn’t accept it for medieval history because it ignores medieval philosophy?”
Professor Garton said he agreed that the term “Western civilisation” was a contested one, but this was a reason to teach it and open up the issues.