Students take aim at Ramsay Centre’s whitewash of history

Protesters at Sydney University demanding it drop its talks with the Ramsay Centre.

A protest at the University of Sydney on June 27 demanded the University Senate drop its talks with the multibillion dollar Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, which had offered millions to the university to offer a “Western Civilisation” degree.

The late conservative philanthropist Paul Ramsay set up the Ramsay Centre with a $3 billion bequest to “revive the liberal arts and humanities”. The board includes former Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott, who have been major proponents for promoting a whitewash of Australian history in favour of a focus on Western Civilisation.

About 100 protestors, including members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and various student bodies, rallied.

Speakers argued that the University of Sydney Senate was undemocratic in its negotiations with the centre, which had offered a large sum of money for a Bachelor of Western Civilisation degree. They said these negotiations, which took place without consultation with academic staff or student bodies, are undermining the integrity and autonomy of teachers and students to further the Ramsay Centre’s right-wing agenda.

Senior Lecturer and member of the NTEU Nick Riemer said the lack of an opportunity for staff to scrutinise the fate of undergraduate degrees was setting an alarming precedent.

“This push by the Ramsay Centre to offer a multimillion dollar sum to the university is nothing more than a bid to give legitimacy to their right wing agenda,” he said.

Other speakers also condemned the undemocratic nature of the negotiations, with the overwhelming message being that Howard and Abbott should not have the right to influence university courses. Their agenda is to undermine the empirical history of Australia by changing the curriculum to suit the conservative view of history, which would effectively erase the story of pre-colonisation Australia.