As might have been expected, Paul Ramsay’s generous bequest to establish the Centre for Western Civilisation is under attack. It seems universities need money and lots of it, but coffers overseen by cultural conservatives are beyond the pale. Why, they might be “racists”!
In North America hikers are warned never to get between a bear and her cubs. In Australia, where humans are the closest we get to mega-carnivores, that advice also applies, albeit in antipodean translation: Don’t get between leftist academics and a pile of other people’s money.
At James Cook University, Professor Peter Ridd has just been fired after asserting much of his colleagues’ research can’t withstand scrutiny, the subtext being that a body of academic opinion has been corrupted and shaped by the building of empires and the pursuit of funding. There are no grants likely for those who say there are no problems, and thus do many problems come to light.
See also ‘Paul Ramsay’s Vision for Australia’
At ANU, where the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation is finding its feet, much the same money lust has crystallised in a letter from an academics union shop steward who doesn’t like the idea such cash isn’t going to the usual suspects. From today’s Australian:
Mr [Matthew] King singled out a Quadrant article written by Ramsay Centre director and former prime minister Tony Abbott in which he “implies that the Ramsay Centre would wield considerable influence over staffing and curriculum decisions”.
“If this is true, we are very concerned that this would violate the core principles of academic freedom, integrity and independence, and reflects an ignorance of, or disregard for, the role of the academic board as final arbiter of academic standards,” Mr King wrote.
“If the Ramsay Centre agreement is perceived to compromise on these principles, it will be rejected by staff, students and other stakeholders and could lead to significant anger, protest and division.”
Abbott’s essay on the Ramsay Centre appeared in our April edition and can be read in full here. Here is what the former prime minister actually says about hiring and recruitment:
“A management committee including the Ramsay CEO and also its academic director will make staffing and curriculum decisions.”
Well, yes, that would qualify as “considerable influence”, but it is the Ramsay Centre’s own money when all is said and done.
Abbott is, of course, talking about the board of an academic institution funded by the bequest of a man, Paul Ramsay, who spelled out in his will exactly what he expected his generosity to achieve. As Abbott noted in Quadrant,
[Ramsay was] “acutely conscious of ‘O’Sullivan’s law’, first formulated by the former editor (now international editor) of Quadrant, John O’Sullivan, namely that “every organisation that’s not explicitly right-wing, over time becomes left-wing”. This is a serious risk for the Ramsay Centre but I’m confident that this fate will be avoided.”
By the reckoning of the ANEU’s Matthew King, those hiring decisions should be made by ANU’s “academic board as final arbiter of academic standards”. He is supported by the student union’s Eleanor Kay, who comments in the ANU Observer how Western civilisation is often used as “a rhetorical tool to continue the racist prioritisation of Western history over other cultures”.
And just who sits on the academic board? Quite a few professors, many of whom might not regard the study and defence of Western civilisation as a prime and pressing goal:
There is philosopher and Associate Professor Fiona Jenkins, for instance, who lists her academic passions as
- Hermeneutic And Critical Theory
- Feminist Theory
- Multicultural, Intercultural And Cross Cultural Studies
- Cultural Theory
- Culture, Gender, Sexuality
- Screen And Media Culture
- Law And Society
- Social Philosophy
- Political Theory And Political Philosophy
Blaxland effusively praises the Labor Attorney-General Lionel Bowen. In 1984, Bowen rejected a proposed “non-political” expulsion of a GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence) Science and Technology officer who exported to the USSR and Eastern Europe against Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (CoCom) rules. Bowen threw the papers across the desk to Barnett and said, “So what?” He decreed Australian law was not broken and left for the races.
Want an academic whose pedigree begins with an internship at the Australian Human Rights Commission? Meet Ms Alyssa Shaw, who lists her fields of inquiry as “focusing on feminist theory and gender.”
For those with an interest in climate, there is Dr Craig Strong of ANU’s Climate Change Institute, which oddly enough is very keen on getting more funds to study “negative emissions” as a means to reduce greenhouse gases. This is urgent, apparently, because “global temperatures may exceed the 1.5oC target as quickly as 2026″.
Alas, there is “limited funding for research seeking to develop appropriate technologies and policy options for successful implementation.” A few more grants, however, and writing about ways to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere might well constitute a promising career option. As the Climate Change Institute puts it, ” Given this research need, and the present gap in research on the topic, there is likely to be significant future interest in this space.”
Money matters in academia and if the Ramsay Centre’s board — Kim Beazley, Joe de Bruyn, John Howard, Howard Leeser and Abbott — don’t know as much, it looks like they will soon learn.
The full membership of ANU’s academic board can be found here. Readers with an idle few minutes might care to click on biographical links — the above were selected largely at random — and learn more of those being advanced as better qualified than a late donor’s stewards to decide where and how the Ramsay money is spent.