Other People’s Money at ANU

ramsay logo IIIn 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
  • Poststructuralism
  • Social Philosophy
  • Political Theory And Political Philosophy

Then there is Professor John Blaxland, whose history of ASIO received a withering review in our February, 2017, edition:

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.

9 thoughts on “Other People’s Money at ANU

  • Jim Kapetangiannis says:

    Now that’s what I call an “externality”!

    The government and academics in bed with each other, using other peoples money to “solve” problems which maybe don’t exist(we won’t know if the Ridd affair becomes the norm in the hallowed halls of Academe) while in the meantime, the third party sufferers are the students. The vast majority of these poor children will find that they have a large debt when they finish their studies, no real prospects for a meaningful job and sadly, most will find that their real education will only start after they graduate. But first, they might need to learn how to speak English, write it and maybe, even be able to add up!

    In the meantime, our universities (like our High Schools obviously have) will continue to decline and be overtaken by Universities in Asia and South America and our students will continue on the path to “dumbification”….Perfect citizens for those elite piggies (ironically called “intellectuals”) who see themselves just a touch more equal than other piggies.

  • gmelleui@uow.edu.au says:

    What worries me in all the discussion about Ramsay and the proposed BA in Western Civilisation is the lack of discussion of the execellence of the proposed degree. Students will be asked to discuss, in small groups, some of the crucial texts of Western Civilisation of the past 2,500 years. It will be a challenging experience for the students and will enable them to develop their intellectual capacities in a way that is not currently possible in Australian universities. It would be an absolute tragedy if this opportunity was to be denied to Australian students. This is not an ideological issue but an educational one. It must succeed.

  • Salome says:

    I hope that something can be done to expose Ramsay Centre students to the wonders of Western music in an intelligent way, since music is one of the great jewels in the Western Civ crown and sadly ‘mainstream’ musicological departments are obsessed with feminist and post-structuralist critiques of it.

    • whitelaughter says:

      Well, the obvious place to start is with Howard Goodall’s “Big Bangs” https://www.amazon.com/Big-Bangs-Howard-Goodall/dp/0099283549

    • Jody says:

      Thank you. Correct. I remember having a spat with the Head of Music at UNE more than 25 years ago about this. She sought me out when I wrote her a letter ticking her off. I told her “you don’t endear me to your music (ethno) by trying to destroy the value of mine”.

      I think the hard core music students who actually want to play instruments simply do not have the time for ideology; they are so busy practicing – and that’s hard yakka, let me tell you.

      • Salome says:

        Unfortunately hard core musos tend to be rabid lefties–they rely often on government grants and are frequently unionised, but also swallow the entire ideological neo marxist package. Yes, I remember the time the ethnos went feral at a Musicological Society meeting. Wasn’t there myself, but remember the look on the faces of the western musicologists afterwards. And I heard the mutterings.

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