Pro­fes­sor takes on Ram­say naysay­ers

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - TIM DODD HIGHER ED­U­CA­TION ED­I­TOR JANET ALBRECHTSEN

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.

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