“We are a university, not a training institute for a future political ‘cadre’,” the letter read. “Decisions about how the cultural traditions of Europe are to be studied at university are for academics to make, not billionaires or former prime ministers.
“The Ramsay programme represents, quite simply, European supremacism writ large: it signals that the study of the European cultural tradition warrants better educational circumstances than that of others.
“The profoundly dangerous implications of this bias do not, we believe, need further comment.”
Dr Nick Reimer, a linguistics expert in the English Department, said the academics’ first concern was academic autonomy.
“The second part of it is it institutes this structural discrimination,” he said. It says students that happen to be interested in the west are entitled to superior education resources than those interested in Aboriginal Australia, for example.”
Dr Reimer said the signatories were not “just the usual suspects to the left – it’s a wide range of staff. There are also people from the English department, people whose professional work is in studying stuff from European tradition.”
In its statement, Sydney University said the Vice Chancellor, Michael Spence, had assured the academic board that the university would not do anything that threatened its integrity, but would make its own assessment of the opportunities and risks.
A spokeswoman for the Ramsay Centre said it had not sought to enter into any agreement that undermined academic autonomy and freedom.
Under the agreement the centre had been discussing with the ANU, the degree would involve small classes of no more than six to eight students, the curriculum would be determined by two academics from the Ramsay Centre, and two from the ANU, and only students with an ATAR of 97 would have been accepted.
Many have criticised ANU’s decision. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull weighed into the controversy this week, saying he was surprised. He said he would be asking the universiyt’s vice-chancellor, Brian Schmidt, for a fuller account.
The NSW Education Minister, Rob Stokes, also spoke out, saying it seemed “insane” for a university to turn down funding for an area that traditionally struggles to attract it simply because it didn’t like the world view behind it.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Ramsay Centre confirmed Mr Beazley was no longer on the board. “He was appointed Governor of WA and so had to resign most other pre-existing appointments,” she said.
“We hope to appoint another Labor person to the board in the near future. The board have the matter under active consideration and hope to make an announcement soon.”
The board includes former prime ministers John Howard (chair) and Tony Abbott, union heavyweight Joe de Bruyn, Queenwood principal Elizabeth Stone and Liberal MP Julian Leeser.
Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald
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