Sydney University academics denounce western civilisation degree

Michael McGowan:

More than 100 academics from the University of Sydney have signed an open letter opposing any push to introduce a western civilisation degree funded by the John Howard-backed Ramsay Centre.

The university has confirmed it is in conversations with the Ramsay Centre about the possibility of running the degree following the Australian National University’s decision to pull out of negotiations.

Published on Friday, the letter states the academics’ strong opposition to the Ramsay Centre proposal, describing it as “European supremacism writ large”.

They argue that the “cultural and intellectual legacies” of the west are already “intensively studied” at the university, and that the late Paul Ramsay’s $3.3bn bequest could have been made to existing humanities programs.

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“The fact he chose not to do so shows that his intention was more than simply fostering university study of Western intellectual and cultural traditions, within the standing norms of academic independence,” the letter states.

On Friday a University of Sydney spokeswoman confirmed that the vice-chancellor, Michael Spence, had been in discussions with the Ramsay Centre about “the possibility of financial support for teaching at the university”.