Chanting “Michael Spence, you will fail, USyd is not for sale!”, students opposing the vice chancellor’s support for the Ramsay Centre made their point outside the University of Sydney administration building on October 31.
Speakers condemned the discussions between university management and the board of the right-wing Ramsay Centre think tank, which aims to set up a degree in “Western Civilisation”.
The late conservative philanthropist Paul Ramsay, who made his fortune from privatised medicine and aged care, set up the Ramsay Centre to counter alleged left-wing bias in arts and humanities in higher education.
The centre is chaired by former Liberal PM John Howard, and includes on its board another former conservative prime minister, Tony Abbott.
The Australian National University (ANU) has already rejected a Ramsay Centre offer to situate its course in that institution.
History lecturer David Brophy told the crowd that the Ramsay Centre’s “hostility” to the independence of the humanities is “a threat to the essence” of the university.
NSW Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi said the Ramsay Centre would only “further entrench racism and discrimination”, adding that those opposed to it were standing “alongside Aboriginal people in opposing the teaching of right-wing propaganda in the guise of ‘Western civilisation’."
“The history of imperialism and colonialism is being airbrushed out of the proposed Ramsay Centre curriculum. The Ramsay Centre is demanding control of the agenda, which we must reject out of hand,” said Senator Faruqi.
After, students marched into the administration building to call on the university senate to veto the proposal.
Meanwhile, on October 29, a public meeting of more than 100 academics and supporters, organised by Staff Against the Ramsay Centre, heard the case against having the new unit.
The panel of academic speakers included Professor Linda Connor from the Anthropology Department, Professor John Frow from the English Department and Dr Priyamvada Gopal from Cambridge University in Britain via videophone.
Evelyn Araluen, an Aboriginal educator from the English Department, spoke strongly against the Ramsay Centre, which would help “further entrench a racist, colonial ideology”.
After lively discussion from the floor, a motion was unanimously passed, stating: “This meeting calls on the university’s management: 1. To withdraw from any further negotiations with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, and 2. To recommit to the principles of anti-discrimination, inclusion and diversity in all current and future curriculum decisions.”