It is perhaps unexpected that NSW Nationals’ Leader John Barilaro might be proffered as a providing the model for finding a way forward in realising the late Paul Ramsay’s magnificent obsession. This was to re-locate the study of Western civilisation back at or near the centre of our universities’ life, where it has so unfortunately disappeared.
All is not lost, however, with green shoots such as Sydney’s Campion College. Alas, they are few and far between, and in the case of Campion, catering to a select few at this point in its development. It also lacks the presumed prestige of older institutions with the title “university”, a presumption which, as we know, is now so often mostly misplaced and abused.
Back to John Barilaro. The NSW Deputy Premier has had a decidedly mixed record of late. His work to restore a measure of safety to Snowy Mountains brumbies and recognise their place in the nation’s folklore was magnificent. Against this, his seeming enthusiastic support for curtailing the free speech of those who attempt to save the lives of the unborn on the streets of Sydney and give greater meaning to the lives of their mothers, was appalling to these eyes. Then there was his recent push to bring back decentralisation as a means of reviving rural communities and easing Sydney’s congestion. This is an old and stupid from the Seventies. It failed then to remedy the problems it was intended to address and will do so once more, and at even greater cost, if tried again. Going back a bit, Barilaro also suggested Malcolm Turnbull should nick off. Outstanding advice sadly unheeded!
But Barilaro’s greatest achievement has been the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship (SSE). Recognising Sydney’s pre-eminent place in Australia’s start-up ecosystem and the potential for further growth, Barilaro and colleagues such as Anthony Roberts set about turbo-charging the city’s ecosystem and cementing Sydney’s position. He blatantly copied a European model, the Stockholm School, and even pinched its CEO, the Australian Nick Kaye.
With a $25 million infusion of funding — very modest by Ramsay standards — Barilaro set out not simply replicate the existing offerings of those universities already teaching entrepreneurship, but to leverage what they do in innovative ways and thereby add something new, different and complementary. The SSE does not go in and interfere with what universities (and TAFEs) are doing; rather, it enlists their resources to add value. It’s a brilliant model. All NSW universities are signed up and participate. No one misses out.
At the National Interest, Salvatore Babones writes:
In a vain attempt to justify the complete destruction of the city [Louvain], and its ancient Belgian university, a group of ninety-three German professors signed an open letter to their colleagues in “the civilized world” laying out the case for German militarism. The signatories included fourteen Nobel Prize winners, one-fifth of all those living at the time.
The SSE does have programs, like the Navigator short course boot camp-style program for outstanding entrepreneur student prospects from NSW universities. The school also has events, speakers and generally “mingles” with Sydney’s wider entrepreneur community. It doesn’t colonise but draws upon resources already in the system. For example, star faculty from universities are involved in teaching short courses at the SSE. Visiting scholars come from overseas. Students win scholarships to attend courses that complement their existing degrees. Thus is the entrepreneurial spirit further infused into our tertiary system.
In a sense, Barilaro and Kaye have found a “coalition of the willing”. They have created in effect a hub-and-spoke model that works, despite it being early days. What its longer-term impact might be is too soon to tell, but the signs are promising. In particular, the SSE creates “buzz” and interest through events and partnerships.
Yes, entrepreneurship is generally seen as both uncontroversial and beneficial, something universities will sign up for, on trend with the zeitgeist. But my point is that the Sydney School is not in any way threatening, or seen as threatening, to existing institutions.
Some have suggested, why doesn’t the Ramsay Centre simply give the money to Campion College? There seem to be two potential reasons. One is that Campion is very Catholic. This may put off some. Another is that Ramsay wishes to infuse Western civilisation into existing secular institutions, not simply create a stand-alone alternative. A third might relate to prestige and Ramsay’s desire to work with a group of eight institution (like, unfortunately, ANU).
These are all good reasons for seeking the path that it did. Yet there is also O’Sullivan’s Law — ie., that any institution not specifically established to combat the Left will be colonised by it — to consider, and here I refer readers to the unfortunate precedent of Sydney University’s US Studies Centre, which gained largesse from the Howard Government only to be overrun and controlled by the usual suspects. That would be a terrible fate for the Ramsay centre to suffer, so ANU’s rejection should probably seen as a blessing in disguise.
How could an SSE-style operation work in the context of Western civ?
Well, staff could be seconded from existing institutions to teach summer schools and other short courses. Scholarships could be provided. Students interested in this free opportunity to learn something worthwhile would be drawn to a stand-alone Ramsay Centre. They would not have to forsake their existing studies. If indeed a coalition of the willing could be formed from among existing universities, their studies could count towards their home degrees. Star scholars from overseas could be funded to visit and teach these programs, along with star emeritus faculty from Australia (Barry Spurr, perhaps) and existing faculty. They do exist, currently hidden in Marxist/feminist/queer studies-led departments and schools. They would relish a day out in the sun.
Under this model, you would not need to set up a brand new university, nor would you be seen as colonising or competing with existing universities.
Always start modest, then build, just like a start-up. Fail fast, learn, pivot. Don’t make enemies. That would be my advice to the outstanding men and women of the Ramsay Centre, who already have a great model.