Donatella Cannova, director of the Italian Institute of Culture in Buenos Aires and former Director of the Italian Institute of Culture in Sydney, publicly condemned the proposed partnership between Sydney University and the Ramsay Centre last year, saying that it “should be a common concern to everyone interested in autonomy, freedom and the progress of knowledge”.
The centre, which identifies its purpose in the advancement of “education by promoting studies and discussion of Western civilisation”, was knocked back by the Australian National University over concerns that the degree would undermine academic autonomy, after it was revealed that Ramsay representatives wished to sit in on classes.
The opposing academic community argues that the degree promotes and celebrates cultural imperialism, at a time when many universities across the world are attempting to "decolonise", or remove material reflecting the idea of Western superiority, from their curricula.
“Decolonisation” is thought to be particularly important in countries such as Australia, with its horrific history of colonisation and its negative impacts on Aboriginal people.
Tony Abbot, who sits on the Ramsay Centre board, has previously said that the centre is “not merely about Western civilisation but in favour of it”.
UOW shocked and surprised many students and staff at the end of last year, when it revealed it had negotiated the $50 million deal with the centre in secret.
The deal will see 30 students each year awarded scholarships worth $27,000 to undertake the degree, which stipulates “detailed examination of the classic intellectual and artistic masterpieces of the Western tradition”.
Ramsay Centre staff will sit on academic and scholarship selection committees for the new Western civilisation degree at UOW, but will not chair the committees or have a majority vote.
Scholarship applicants will be assessed against a range of criteria, “including Ramsay Attributes”, the details of which are still being finalised but are expected to include interest in ideas that have shaped Western civilisation, willingness to contribute to debate, and an ability to consider different views.
Ramsay scholarship recipients must be recent school leavers aged between 16 and 21.
There will be no mature-aged students and scholars will need an ATAR of 95 or above.
The Ramsay Centre’s Western civilisation degree was formulated as part of a $3.3 billion bequest made by the late healthcare mogul, Paul Ramsay.
A spokesperson from the UOW staff has defended the partnership, saying that “the Bachelor of Arts (Western Civilisation) will focus on providing a first-class, philosophically focused, liberal arts education”.
“Students will engage directly with great literary, artistic and intellectual works that are cornerstones of Western civilisation.
“The program and teaching methods will challenge students to think critically about the material they encounter throughout their studies.
“All students will be encouraged to reflect upon and give reasons for holding the particular perspectives they choose to adopt.
“This degree is designed to teach students how to think, not what to think.”
The UOW website states that the new degree will not promote Western civilisation over others, and that it will introduce to students “the contributions of other cultures and traditions and their influence on the West”.
Students will study the debate and controversies over their curriculum, as well as the Greek classics, but also texts such as The Silence of the Girls: a feminist re-telling of The Iliad, plus texts by Germaine Greer, the Koran, and Buddhism in Translation.