Wollongong Receives AU$50 Million for Philosophy-Based Degree Program


The University of Wollongong is creating a philosophy-based bachelor of arts degree program in “Western Civilization”, to be based in a new School of Liberal Arts, with the help of a AU$50 million (approximately $35.6 million) gift from the Ramsay Centre.

The new school will be headed up by philosopher Daniel Hutto. In some promotional materials for the school, he writes that it will combine elements of different liberal arts and “great books” programs. Its curriculum will be “philosophical, through and through,” based on “great masterworks of thought and art,” and will enter into “respectful, high-quality conversations with non-Western traditions.”

The promotional materials include testimonials from philosophers at other schools who have reviewed the curriculum, including Shaun Gallagher, Ruth Millikan, Onora O’Neill, Jay Garfield, and several others.

The Ramsay Centre was created with funds from a bequest from the late Australian businessman Paul Ramsay, and had sought an institutional home for its proposed Western Civilization degree at a number of Australian universities. It had recently been turned down by the University of Sydney owing to faculty concerns about political bias and academic freedom, mainly over the extent to which there’d be involvement of Ramsay Centre staff in university hiring, admissions, and curricular decisions.

According to The Guardian,

In a statement on Monday a [Wollongong] university spokesman [said] that a “small team” had been established to “quietly” work through “all matters related to academic freedom, governance and autonomy from the outset”. However the university spokesman confirmed the Ramsay Centre would have “representatives” on selection committees.

“Ramsay will have representatives on selection committees alongside UOW members, but they will not chair the committees, will not have a majority and nor will they have any overriding deciding vote,” he said. 

The spokesman said the curriculum for the course had been designed by the university’s academics, but “refined in consultation with Ramsay Centre”.

And while the university said Ramsay Centre staff “will not be sitting in on classes for the purposes of assessing teaching content or quality” the university would provide regular “quality assurance” reports to the Ramsay Centre.

You can look at detailed descriptions of the course offerings here. The school will offer scholarships of at least AU$27,000 (approximately $19,250) to all admitted students. The first class, expected to number 30 students, will begin the three-year program in 2020.

 

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William
William
2 years ago

The material on the pamphlet looks terrible (I hope they’re not orienting their early modern curriculum around “empiricism vs rationalism” entirely uncritically – such a Kantian historiography). The Ramsey Centre website also says some sketchy things.

I’m wondering if the conservatives are playing us by having this control or the humanities are playing them by reserving the hiring rights mostly for themselves.Report

Lisa S
Lisa S
2 years ago

As of September the Board of the Ramsay Foundation included former Australian PMs John Howard and Tony Abbott. If you want to know about the aims of the Ramsay Centre, find out more about the political records of Howard and Abbott. Also I believe not only the University of Sydney but also the ANU turned down the money.Report

Bryan W. Van Norden
2 years ago

I was invited by Hutto to join the advisory board for this degree. My response was “Are you joking?”

Hutto chose to make public his replies to my email in the comments to a post on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BryanWVanNorden/posts/526669624498817 — Bryan W. Van Norden, Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Professor in the Humanities, Yale-NUS College, and James Monroe Taylor Chair in Philosophy, Vassar CollegeReport

Some postdoc
Some postdoc
Reply to  Bryan W. Van Norden
2 years ago

Hutto seems to be quite a fan of your work though, as you’re cited a total of 6 times in this Curriculum Design document: https://media.uow.edu.au/content/groups/public/@web/@media/documents/doc/uow255849.pdfReport

Bryan Van Norden
Reply to  Some postdoc
2 years ago

I noticed. Someone employing a hermeneutic of suspicion might think that this is intended to provide a fig leaf of cover for what is a profoundly Eurocentric curriculum. I have also looked at the readings list for their courses: https://media.uow.edu.au/content/groups/public/@web/@media/documents/doc/uow255851.pdf The readings are overwhelmingly white, Anglo-European, and male, with a few token references to non-European thought.Report

Bryan Van Norden
2 years ago

Wollongong’s BA in Western Civilisation is what you would expect if Steve Bannon, Marine Le Pen, and Geert Wilders took out their crayons and designed a curriculum. Of course, their version would be illegible, because they would insist on writing it with white crayons on white paper.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Bryan Van Norden
2 years ago

Professor Van Norden, I don’t really see it this way.
I think I have a decent superficial understanding of Western philosophy, literature, and the like, and it seems to me that the curriculum is a decently representative overview of many significant authors. In what sense does it betray a right-wing outlook?
Or do you mean that it is it right-wing because is it xenophopic, and xenophobic simply in virtue of being solely focussed on Western tradition?Report

Bryan W. Van Norden
Reply to  Postdoc
2 years ago

In this day and age, a degree focused solely on the Western tradition is–at best–extremely naive about how concepts of Western exceptionalism and Western superiority have functioned and continue to function in the world. Furthermore, at least one member of the Ramsay Center board has explained very clearly what this is about: : <> https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/jun/06/university-explains-why-it-walked-away-from-grant-for-western-civilisation-degreeReport

Bryan W. Van Norden
Reply to  Bryan W. Van Norden
2 years ago

Sorry, I was trying to include the following quotation: “In April the former prime minister Tony Abbott – also a member of the Ramsay Centre board – published an article in the conservative publication Quadrant stating that the Ramsay Centre was ‘not merely about western civilisation but in favour of it’.

In the article Abbott criticised contemporary university education, writing that ‘every element of the curriculum … pervaded by Asian, Indigenous and sustainability perspectives’.”Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Bryan W. Van Norden
2 years ago

Thank you for your reply.

I understand from other comments in this thread that there is a suspicion of a strong right-wing agend behind this, and I think universities should be vigilant about it. But I don’t see it as a knock-down argument against the curriculum. After all, we allow left-wing institutions to sponsor curricula too, not to mention religious institutions.

I am not sure what it means to be “in favour of” Western civilisation, so I am not sure whether it is wrong. What if it meant that we should not turn our back to the values of the enlightenment, or to the ideas of democracy and personal freedom? This sentiment is still widespread, and it isn’t exclusively a right-wing thing.

Australia is bound to have a lot of thinking to do about its position in world culture, with its controversial past and an substantial and increasing East Asian presence. This curriculum puts their Western heritage and values on the map, and I find it weird that we are asked to be coy about them. My Chinese friends would never doubt whether they are “in favour of” Chinese civilisation.Report

C.
C.
Reply to  Postdoc
2 years ago

Postdoc,

In terms of not turning our back to the value of democracy, the deal for this degree was made in complete secret. Beyond 3 key individuals orchestrating the deal in secret and behind closed doors, no one knew this degree was even being considered to be offered at the University of Wollongong. This is not despite the fact, but because of it, that this proposed degree was already under scrutiny and protest at other Universities in Australia where it was made public that negotiations were occurring.

The deal was only made public after it was signed, and exactly one week before Christmas when there were no students and very few faculty on campus. I think this speaks volume to the motives behind the people who organized this deal. It certainly makes it clear that those who organized the deal have absolutely no regard or respect for democracy and transparency.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Bryan Van Norden
2 years ago

I joined the advisory board for the Wollongong School of Liberal Arts because I see it as a promising opportunity to build a serious course of study for students who are interested in three millennia of philosophy and related fields of inquiry. I’ve pushed to include a lot of figures who are neglected in the vast majority of history of philosophy programs, such as the Islamic and Jewish philosophers of Andalusia (Maimonides, Gersonides, Averroes, Ibn Khaldun).

Is it perfect? No. Nothing is. But I would encourage folks to give it a chance. Wait and see how it shapes up in the next few years before rushing to judgment. And bear in mind that if Dan Hutto didn’t take the initiative, the Le Pen/Wilders types in Australia (of which there are many) may have really gotten their way.

Gift horses. Mouths. Etc.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS-0Az7dgRYReport

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Bryan Van Norden
2 years ago

I agree with you, Professor Van Norden.Report

Comments Policy
Comments Policy
Reply to  Bryan Van Norden
2 years ago

“Before you comment, imagine the following. You are seated in a comfortable chair at a table with all of the other commentators. You have gathered to discuss an issue of mutual concern, and you are aiming to learn something from the conversation. Take off your shoes if you’d like. Wriggle your toes. Appreciate the wonders of everyday life in the twenty-first century. On the table in front of you is your favorite beverage. Through the window is your favorite view. And seated next to you is a child, who you brought with you for a lesson on how to discuss controversial issues with strangers. Are you imagining all of that? Okay, now you may be in the right mindset to comment.

Daily Nous is an online space for philosophers, academics, students, and other interested parties to discuss news and issues related to philosophy and the philosophy profession. People disagree about these things, and the discussions can get heated at times. Those participating should be able to distinguish between criticisms of ideas and arguments, on the one hand, and personally insulting rhetoric, on the other. Sometimes the latter can be disguised in the words used for the former, so please choose your words carefully. If you’re making a criticism, please do it kindly. And if your ideas and arguments are on the receiving end of criticism, please don’t take it personally. More generally, let’s aim for more thoughtfulness and less obnoxiousness. Humor and lightheartedness are welcome. Just don’t act like a jerk.”Report

Worried academic
Worried academic
Reply to  Bryan Van Norden
2 years ago

The University of Wollongong currently has a philosophy major and an excellent faculty.

The creation of another philosophy degree under the name of “Western Civilisation” by the Ramsay group is a MAGA-move (Van Norden is completely right on this account). The curriculum looks like any general, mediocre philosophy program from several decades ago, before there was a (hard-won and ongoing, mind you) push to give due attention to the multicultural influences and diverse voices ignored in degrees of this kind (even those that might focus on Euro-centric trends in thought).

Considering the overwhelming rejection of the degree by the Workers Union and the Student Union, the hasty creation of an advisory panel after the creation of the curriculum, the obvious lack of care and attention to non-white-male-folks (see the few token diversity voices that appear somewhat randomly shoehorned in after the ‘core’ curriculum was chosen), the upcoming students protests (student protests over what Hutto is trying to pretend is a completely innocuous philosophy degree), and the petition against the degree with over 2,000 signatures, there is a lot here to be concerned about. I encourage people to dig a little deeper.

This is no ‘great books’ course. This is an ideology driven degree. We have no idea who will be hired to teach these courses (and at present, they look like they were designed by someone without expertise). Will they be world-class scholars and experts in the subjects they teach? My guess is that we’ll see plenty of hires with specialities in phil of mind, cog sci, phenomenology, and the like.

My question to the community is this (given Alfano’s reply above): why are people joining this advisory panel? Why, when there are so many excellent, forward-thinking degree programs out there, would you choose to join a panel to improve a degree run by a right-wing think tank that benefits only a very small number of “Ramsay attribute” students, and that the majority of the UOW student and academic communities have made it clear that they do not want?Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
2 years ago

Such a big fuss over a Western country offering a Western civilisation curriculum. So what?
Yes, we should give students a sense that there are other valuable historical traditions. Are we not doing that, with the current amount of positions in non-Western philosophy being advertised in the US and UK? Is a curriculum with a focus on the Western tradition fundamentally at odds with an effort to acknowledge other traditions, and the ways in which Western countries have sometimes damaged other people?Report

Kai Tanter
Kai Tanter
2 years ago

For context, this is the Abbott article Bryan quoted above: https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2018/04/paul-ramsays-vision-australia/

Recounting a conversation with Paul Ramsey about what was missing in contemporary Australian education:

“Largely missing, even from Catholic schools, was a deep focus on the Christian faith. The study of history was no longer narrative, starting with the cradle of civilisation and moving through Greece and Rome to the story of England and the birth of the modern world, its triumphs and its travails; but had become episodic. And every element of the curriculum was supposed to be pervaded by Asian, indigenous and sustainability perspectives. Almost entirely absent from the contemporary educational mindset was any sense that cultures might not all be equal and that truth might not be entirely relative.”

The degree was also turned down by the ANU last year (https://theconversation.com/anu-stood-up-for-academic-freedom-in-rejecting-western-civilisation-degree-99189). I though they were still in negotiations with USyd?Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
2 years ago

Two years ago (http://dailynous.com/2016/05/11/philosophical-diversity-in-u-s-philosophy-departments/) Bryan van Norden and Jay Garfield wrote a thoughtful argument lamenting the failure of US philosophy departments to offer courses on non-European, non-Anglophone philosophy. I worried about that article, and still do from time to time. I felt and feel that they understated the degree to which substantial parts of philosophy (those concerned with science, math and logic) are culturally pretty neutral, but that’s less plausibly the case for other bits of non-historical philosophy and evidently not the case for history of philosophy. Garfield and van Norden’s article brought home to me the fact that a standard US philosophy department is an odd amalgam of a humanities department studying a particular collection of historically and culturally related ideas, and something more thematically related.

I remain unsure what to do about that. But I couldn’t see, and still don’t see, a cogent objection not only to the false advertising of describing European/American philosophy as philosophy tout court, but to a major that genuinely focused on European/American philosophy, still less to a major that – as here – focusses on a broader constellation of ideas that includes philosophy but remains within a particular historical tradition. Nor can I see an objection to a departmental structure organized around ideas in that way. A Department of Western Civilization won’t be hiring me, a philosopher of contemporary physics (shed no tears for my sake, Australia’s a bit far from home anyway), any more than a Classics department would, or any more than Irvine’s Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science would hire a Descartes specialist. But there are lots of ways to decompose academia into subdisciplines, and no one uniquely carves Nature at the joints. We can have conversations about how to allocate resources between Classics and Sanskrit, or German and English, departments, without objecting to the very existence of those departments.

Garfield and van Norden seem to agree, at least to some degree. They say in their article (and I took it to be sincere): “[W]e ask those who sincerely believe that it does make sense to organize our discipline entirely around European and American figures and texts to pursue this agenda with honesty and openness. We therefore suggest that any department that regularly offers courses only on Western philosophy should rename itself ‘Department of European and American Philosophy.’ This simple change would make the domain and mission of these departments clear, and would signal their true intellectual commitments to students and colleagues.” Be careful what you wish for.

(I should say that I have no information nor expertise on the political background concerns others have raised about the Ramsay Foundation, nor have I studied the detailed curriculum in any depth. This is on the abstract question of a major like this existing.)Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
2 years ago

I don’t have a settled view on the issue. I have a great deal of respect for Dan Hutto. But for context, it is worth noting that prominent backers of the centre and board members of the foundation like Tony Abbott are from the Trumpian right, not merely conservatives. Abbott is a climate change sceptic, with a history of racist rhetoric.Report

Young Australian Academic
Young Australian Academic
Reply to  Neil Levy
2 years ago

The prominent backers you mention (Tony Abbott and John Howard) are from the hard right faction in Australian politics. However, describing them as the ‘Trumpian right’ is highly misleading. They are neoliberal socially conservative career politicians and not popularists like Trump. Throughout their careers they have endorsed and implemented policies like a high immigration intake from Asia, restrictions on gun ownership, massive middle-class welfare spending, an interventionist foreign policy, and multilateral free-trade agreements. They have engage in nasty xenophobic and racist dog-whistling politics for their own electoral advantage. However, their dog-whistles are very mild compared Trump and even compared to the Republicans that came before him. They have no time for white supremacists and have always strongly condemned them.Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
Reply to  Young Australian Academic
2 years ago

The truly Trumpian turn only occurred when Trump made it (seem) okay. Abbott has had many views over the years; today he is Trumpian. I don’t think that’s really controversial. Here’s a piece of evidence. When Pauline Hanson first appeared on the scene, the Howard government (in which Abbott was a cabinet minister) refused to work with her. Today Abbott appears for photo opportunities along side her. Of course he’s more sophisticated than Trump. There are cardboard boxes more sophisticated than Trump.Report

Young Australian Academic
Young Australian Academic
Reply to  Neil Levy
2 years ago

If he was made leader of the Liberal Party tomorrow and given carte blanche to do what he wants then I would expect a bunch of nasty right wing policies, but I wouldn’t expect his policy agenda to be very similar to Trump’s. I accept that you are earnest in your views. However, I have noticed the term “Trumpian” often being misapplied to right wing politicians not from the US who are not following Trump’s playbook. I presume this is because it has become a powerful political pejorative to throw at those we oppose regardless of its accuracy.Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
Reply to  Young Australian Academic
2 years ago

I am following the pretty standard usage, of referring to an ethnonationalist, anti-science, anti-expertise, anti-diversity populist politics as ‘Trumpian’. This usage is at least as warranted as, say’ ‘conservative’ or ‘socialist’ (in fact, it picks out a narrower range of positions). It is silly to argue over words, so substitute ‘ethnonationalist…etc’ for my ‘Trumpian’.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Neil Levy
2 years ago

I agree it’s silly to argue over words, but for what it’s worth I generally find the attempt to use ‘Trumpian’ to describe things in UK politics unhelpful, and I imagine I’d feel similarly about Australian politics if I knew anything about it.Report

Matt
Reply to  Neil Levy
2 years ago

David Wallace says:
I generally find the attempt to use ‘Trumpian’ to describe things in UK politics unhelpful, and I imagine I’d feel similarly about Australian politics if I knew anything about it.

At least some Australian parties are going out of their way to be helpful in making the comparison clear. See, for example, this bunch: https://www.unitedaustraliaparty.org.au/Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
Reply to  Neil Levy
2 years ago

David Wallace: I live in both the UK and Australia. The Australian government is very different from the UK – for instance, the UK government is not headed by climate change sceptics. I doubt the inductive move from “the comparison is unwarranted in the case I know about” to cases in which you confess ignorance is particularly reliable.Report

Another Post Doc
Another Post Doc
2 years ago

I just wanted to state ‘for the record’, that Dan Hutto is very clearly a decent, nice guy with *zero* interest in peddling right-wing ideologies. Whatever people may think about the wisdom of accepting money etc from these Ramsay centre people, I would suggest that no aspersions should be cast on Professor Hutto’s character. (Not saying that any such aspersions have been cast so far in these comments.)Report

Young Australian Academic
Young Australian Academic
2 years ago

Some of the comments above partially fill in the context around this decision in a way that I find misleading. Here is a better picture of what is going on for those looking from outside (I myself have no involvement with UW or this degree programme, but I do know higher education in Australia well).

Almost all of Australia’s universities are public universities (40 out of 43). Over the last 25 years the federal government has continually cut funding to the university sector putting the high standing of Australia’s universities at risk. The sector has been encouraged to address this funding shortage by taking in large numbers of full-fee paying international students (who mainly come from Asia). This has only partly addressed the funding shortage and has compromised standards (e.g., watering down content and degree programmes to cater for this international market, pressuring academics to pass weak students, ignoring evidence of widespread cheating on English-competency entrance exams). During this period there has also been significant casualization of the academic workforce, which has further diminished quality. Things are now at a critical juncture. The universities are reliant more than ever before on full-fee paying international students from Asia. However, Asian students now have many excellent higher education options in their own region that are equal to or better than Australian universities. They only continue to come to Australia in high numbers because the Australian government allows admission as an international student to be a migration pathway and has kept this pathway open even as they have tightened migration elsewhere. So the average Asian international student now comes to study in Australia, even though they could get a better cost-to-quality education closer to home, because they are attracted to the political/social freedoms and social welfare state offered by Australia and studying at an Australian university is the only viable migration pathway. Experts now warn that this setup is very fragile. Various push and pull factors are likely to change over the next decade leading the international student cash cow to dry up and putting Australian universities into financial difficulty.

In this kind of environment the humanities is especially vulnerable. Some of Australia’s best universities with a strong international standing in the humanities have continued to generously fund humanities programmes. But elsewhere the humanities has been (and will be) the easy target when tough funding decisions need to be made. It is also worth explaining to outsiders that Australia does not have a philanthropic culture (in a social welfare state citizens generally expect the government to look after these things and expect the wealthy to contribute via the taxes they pay in a progressive tax system rather than through private philanthropy). Thus, although universities have tried to address their funding cuts by inducing private donations from the well-off they have had very little success.

Given the above situation, the hard right in Australian politics saw an opportunity. They have long chided the fact that their segment of the political spectrum is marginalized in Australian universities (which is dominated by left-wingers and moderates, but also tolerates small-c conservatives). They realized that, given the precarious position Australian universities are currently in, there might be an unprecedented opportunity to buy ideological influence. So they found a suitable donor (they have many allies among the wealthy business elite) and the result was the establishment of the Ramsey Centre. However, they overplayed their hand. They erroneously thought that the boon of an unprecedented amount of private funding for the cash-strapped humanities would be so irresistible that a deal could be made completely on their terms. Before a deal had even been struck some of them were already arrogantly boasting in right-wing media that they would soon have a degree programme in their control to train a generation of hard-right elites to push their ideology in Australian society. If they had kept their motives hidden and hired a slick PR team to market the Ramsey Centre as a friendly, non-partisan, educational institute they may have eventually got the influence they wanted. But instead, they saw several of Australia’s best universities back away from a deal with them because the universities could not accept terms that undermine academic integrity and independence.

These events fundamentally weakened the negotiating position of the Ramsey Centre. There was a risk that no Australian university would accept their terms and that they would be unable to spend the bequest. So they started to make various concessions, offering more control of the staffing and curriculum to the universities they were negotiating with (which now were no longer from the top-tier) and allowing more flexibility in the structure of the degree programme. One thing that couldn’t be negotiated was that the degree programme would be titled “Western Civilization” and would primarily focused on the intellectual history of the West. This was explicitly required by the bequest.

In these circumstances humanities faculties at Australian universities faced a difficult choice. They were unlikely to be able to negotiate something that meets their highest standards and ideals of what kind of humanities education we should invest in. However, given the weakened position of the Ramsey Centre could they negotiate something good enough? Something worth taking because it funds a humanities education of some reasonable quality even though it falls short of our highest ideals. In the end, the academics and administrators at Wollongong (who appear to be moderates) decided that they had a deal worth taking even though it was unideal in several ways.
For example, they seem to acknowledge that a degree in “Western Civilization” is problematic both because the concept is somewhat dubious and because a liberal arts education should be more inclusive drawing on the best intellectual traditions from all over the world. However, on the positive side they may point out that: (1) the central themes and texts in their curriculum are worthy of study, and (2) the curriculum has some significant engagement with non-Western intellectual traditions, which they managed to negotiate with the Ramsey centre despite its initial reluctance to allow this.

They also appear to acknowledge that having Ramsey Centre representatives on staffing and curriculum committees does not fit well with academic independence and integrity. However, on the positive side they may point out that representatives will be in the minority and have no veto powers, which is a great improvement on what the Ramsey Centre was originally demanding.

Are these trade-offs good enough to make the whole thing worth it? I find that hard to say and can see a case for both a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ answer. However, I do think that those who have negotiated this deal deserve some respect. Even if you think that they have made the wrong call you should acknowledge that it was a difficult call to make and that they are people who value academic integrity and were doing this in good faith. Furthermore, there is not that much at stake. One degree programme at one second-tier Australian university with curriculum that is far too narrow and an ideologically motivated funding organization that has slightly too much influence is hardly a crisis for academia in Australia. There are far more pressing concerns like the precarious funding situation, the casualization of the academic workforce, and the recent drop in standards and quality. Not surprisingly, many of the loudest critics of Wollongong’s deal are comfortable senior academics who have enjoyed careers during the glory days of Australian academia. They appear to have a lot to say about the ideological purity of ‘their’ turf but very little to say about the more pressing issues that are going to make academia a miserable place for the next generation of Australian academics.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Young Australian Academic
2 years ago

Young Australian Academic, thank you for the time you put in this lengthy clarification, this is really helpful.Report

R
R
2 years ago

I learned a lot of valuable things in this comments section, which I would like to share:

1. Advocating for “Western Civilization” shouldn’t be taken as a red flag – it’s just an apolitical appreciation of “Western Civilization”.
2. If you put a nice bloke in charge of an institution it’ll mitigate its bad politics.
3. Even if there are some worrying politics rattling around an institution and its funders, we can mitigate their influence since we’re good blokes.
4. Supporting the right in these situations will undermine the far-right.

Now to take a big sip of tea and open my big book of world history to the chapter “The 20th Century”.Report

Young Australian Academic
Young Australian Academic
Reply to  R
2 years ago

I take it you are strongly opposed to Wollongong’s decision to make this deal. However, beyond that I’m not sure how to read your comment. Is 1-4 supposed to be a parody of what commenters have said above, or are suggesting that it accurately reflects what they have said (it clearly does not)?

In any case, if it is obvious to you that the decision is wrong why not clearly state your reasons for thinking so. As you can see from my comment above, some people are sitting on the fence on this one. We can see some reasons for concern but can also see some reasons for making such a deal. If you tell us your reasons you might convince us to shift from undecided to opposed. If it is indeed the wrong decision then getting a critical mass of Australian academic philosophers to oppose it is an important practical step in mitigating its harm and preventing further deals like this from being made. Finally, if you are an epistemically humble person then you will be open to the possibility that your reasons aren’t as strong as you originally thought. Stating your reasons and inviting others to consider them is an excellent way to test their strength. But maybe you are convinced that anyone who doesn’t already share your views is incapable of giving you any relevant reasons worthy of consideration.Report

R
R
Reply to  Young Australian Academic
2 years ago

I’m not obligated to provide you with an exegesis of my comment. Instead of explaining to me how to do philosophy, you could demonstrate by example and do your own research on criticism of Ramsay. Then if you are still genuinely perplexed about the intent, I suggest you reflect on it for a few more moments, and land on an interpretation.

(By the way, the references to “we” and “us” in your response confuse me – are you spokesperson for other commenters? If not, perhaps its better to speak for yourself only, rather than invoking a silent majority as a rhetorical device).Report

Young Australian Academic
Young Australian Academic
Reply to  R
2 years ago

“I’m not obligated to provide you with an exegesis of my comment.”

This implicates that I suggested you are under such an obligation. I made no such suggestion. I merely asked for (not requested or demanded) clarification.

“the references to “we” and “us” in your response confuse me – are you spokesperson for other commenters? If not, perhaps its better to speak for yourself only, rather than invoking a silent majority as a rhetorical device”

I made three relevant claims: (1) Some people are sitting on the fence; they can see some reasons for and some against, (2) if you tell these people your reasons you might convince them to be against the decision, (3) claims (1) and (2) apply to me personally. You suggest that I can only speak for myself on (1) and (2) and cannot make claims about where others stand unless they have appointed me their spokesperson. This suggestion is clearly false. I can have evidence that (1) and (2) apply to people other than myself and on that basis make claims about what some people think. Indeed, this is the basis on which I made those claims. Several conversations with colleagues have given me strong evidence that (1) and (2) apply to them. Reading comments by people discussing this on social media has given me further evidence that (1) and (2) apply to people other than myself.

You also suggest that I am invoking a silent majority. However, I have made no claims about whether people who fit (1) and (2) are in the majority and whether they are generally withholding their views. For the record, I have no idea about what percentage they may be in the relevant target population other than some evidence suggesting that they are a non-negligible number. I also have no reason to think that they are generally keeping their views hidden.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  R
2 years ago

R,

I agree with Young Australian Academic that a lack of a willingness to engage with the opposing view is apparent from your comment, but I’ll attempt a substantive reply to your four points anyway.

With regard to 1, I think that “advocating for Western Civilisation” is not a recommendable thing (to say, or to do), given the potentially quite problematic things it may entail. However, I do think that civilisations (1) exists, (2) are made by people who share some set of values, and (3) these people have a right to defend and promote them in acceptable ways within their communities, whenever those values are of an acceptable sort. Hence my example above regarding personal freedom and democracy.

Regarding 2 and 3, a nice bloke is no absolute guarantee of anything. What people are saying, it seems to me, is that the presence and active role in the curriculum of someone like Hutto *suggests* that either the political agenda might not be a strong one, or that at least we will have a clear picture of what and when something will go wrong.

Concerning 4. “Supporting the right in these situations will undermine the far-right.”
Pretty much exactly. The rise of the far-right is happening not in spite of, but partly exactly because right-wing views of a more moderate sort are for some reason not as palatable anymore (no doubt the left is in no better shape than the centre-right). In my view, the far-right and populist movements are thriving because of this huge ideological vacuum.

I have no interest in defending the programme at Wollongong. I would not suggest people to enroll in it. But I have an interest in defending an academic community that (1) allows private funding non-selectively, so long as certain requirements are met (or doesn’t allow private funding at all); (2) acknowledges that it is acceptable (though not required) for a culture to stand by its own values, and to preferentially promote the study of its own intellectual (or artistic, etc.) tradition (roughly at the conditions I mentioned above).Report

Some postdoc
Some postdoc
2 years ago

“for a culture to stand by its own values, and to preferentially promote the study of its own intellectual (or artistic, etc.) tradition”

That’s not what a university is for. Even assuming there is such a thing as “Western Civilisation” (and there’s every reason to consider it to be more like the king of France — a proposition without referent), and even if we forgot for a moment the larger academic context within which this degree is created (Wollongong already has a philosophy degree which almost exclusively focuses on Western philosophy), and even if it is deemed acceptable to add yet another insult to indigenous Australians (on whose grounds young people will now learn about the amazing culture that invaded, killed and marginalised them), then a university offering a degree on the subject should depart from the assumption that everything about the object of that study is up for critical scrutiny and questioning.

This isn’t a left-wing, right-wing issue, but one of academic freedom. I’ve spoken to fellow philosophers in Romania and they could still remember the time when they were required to make sure all of their work had the right marxist flavour. And do I need to recall the famous words of the national-socialist German government, who told universities that they shouldn’t care about finding out what was true, but merely if something was in line with nazi doctrine?

As soon as a university starts finding it acceptable to ‘preferentially’ (and mark the ‘preferential’ here) promote the study of a certain culture, it ceases to be an academic institution and becomes a political instrument.Report

C.
C.
2 years ago

Patrick Stokes has a good take on the Ramsay Centre and I believe it is worth reading for anyone engaged with this issue. https://adi.deakin.edu.au/news/ramsays-long-march-backwardsReport