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ANU v The Muppets

I don’t know if you’ve been following the very odd goings on between the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation (aka The Muppets) and the Australian National University (ANU) but it has been quite bizarre and has brought into a clear focus the schism that exists between those who believe that they are born to rule and the rest of us, in this case the academic independence and autonomy of one of our foremost learning institutions is under threat.

The Ramsay Centre [for Western Civilisation] represents a foundation set up by Paul Ramsay, a wealthy entrepreneur who made his fortune building and operating private hospitals around the nation and who benefited substantially from successive coalition policies to subsidise private health insurance companies who inevitably direct patients to these and other private hospitals: Ramsay was also a golfing buddy of former PM John Howard.

The objectives of this foundation are:

“… to advance education by promoting studies and discussion associated with the establishment and development of western civilisation, including through establishing scholarship funds and educational courses in partnership with universities”.

So far, so good, some worthy aspirations there and nothing is more aspirational than a group of conservative white men who want to tell the rest of us how we should behave and who happen to be in charge of a three-billion-dollar bequest.

John Howard – well known for the political trifecta of losing his seat, losing the prime ministership and losing government in one hit – heads up the foundation as its chair and Tony Abbott features as one of its directors. Another director, Kim Beazley who was evidently there for balance, noted that:

“This is not a left or right think tank. The values of freedom, human rights and representative government have their origins in Western civilisation. Yet the historical, philosophical and cultural base of that tradition is of diminishing saliency in our academic institutions. It does not need dominance. It needs a systematic voice.”

I’m not sure what Kim was getting at as it clearly is a right-wing tank but whether it thinks or not is another matter and it really doesn’t matter anyhow as soon after he was appointed, the Ramsay Centre announced, “the Hon Kim Beazley AC resigned as a Director on 18 May 2018, following his appointment as Governor of Western Australia.”

That just left one token left-winger in the form of Joe De Bruyn who you may recall was a great supporter of John Howard in efforts to stop lesbians from having IVF babies and later strongly advocating the ‘NO’ case in the marriage equality debate. His standing in the Labor Party was always a bit wobbly and despite his union credentials, he infuriated many of his colleagues with his conservative views on social matters. He also provided Gough Whitlam with one of his more memorable one-liners: in a speech to a union gathering a few years ago, Whitlam described the Netherlands-born de Bruyn as “a Dutchman who hates dykes.”

Recently the Ramsay Centre entered into discussions with the ANU to fund by way of a bequest a Bachelor of Western Civilisation degree to commence next year. The course was to be an Australian version of the great-books courses taught at America’s leading liberal arts colleges. More than half the students were to be on scholarships based on the Tuckwell model that has now been operating at the ANU for some years. The Tuckwell Scholarship Program at the ANU is an undergraduate scholarship program whereby every year, twenty-five talented and motivated Year 12 students from across Australia are invited to take up a place at ANU.

Still looking good!

But then Tony Abbott let rip with one of the brain-farts for which he has become infamous and which, in the form of knighthoods for Princes and Dukes, characterised his forgettable tenure as our prime minister. In a nondescript article in the Right-wing journal Quadrant he noted, on the subject of this degree course on Western civilization, that the curriculum would be ‘for’ western civilization, implying that any critical analysis or comparative content would not be welcome.

He went on to say that:

“Teaching will be tutorial-based in the spirit of Oxford and Cambridge. A management committee including the Ramsay CEO and also its academic director will make staffing and curriculum decisions.”

And, didn’t the proverbial hit the fan with that one!

ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt – a man who has contributed much to Western (and global) civilisation – evidently asked Howard to ‘walk back’ Abbott’s comments as they obviously compromised the negotiations taking place between ANU and Ramsay and attacked the very integrity and autonomy of the university: Howard declined to contradict Abbott, indicating that he too saw it as appropriate for the Ramsay Centre to assume the universities cherished role of making its own staffing and curriculum decisions.

There followed an unseemly jihad on Schmidt and the ANU with the Newscorp numpties at The Australian leading the charge. Their focus and the basis of their criticism seemed to be that the university should never look a gift horse in the mouth, just accept the money and abandon your integrity and principles. But the university are digging their heels in and insisting that it is they who will design, teach and deliver their own courses without the interference of external ideological groups: a bequest is after all a gift and it is tarnished and diminished if the giver places on it conditions for its use and application.

So, discussions between the ANU and Ramsay reached a stalemate and even the prime minister was called on to intervene and bring the ANU to heel and right on cue Senator for the IPA, James Paterson, demanded that the ANU be punished by having its funding cut – just like the ABC. He would say that, wouldn’t he, it’s in his IPA implanted DNA.

So far, the ANU and Vice Chancellor Schmidt have maintained a dignified and calm demeanour saying only that their priority for the university is its integrity as a respected international place of learning and its absolute insistence that it retain autonomy over its course curriculum and staffing. At no stage has the ANU, as has been suggested elsewhere, shown any reluctance to deliver an undergraduate course on Western civilisation, a tradition that itself was founded and thrives on the autonomy of these institutions of higher learning.

Let’s assume that the Ramsay model of course funding is the way of the future and gains acceptance in our universities. Could we then see a bequest from the likes of Pauline Hanson for the teaching of the Foundations of Conversational English or the Clive Palmer bequest for the Teaching of business principles and ethics with lecturers and curricula provided by these individuals?

It’s not as silly as it sounds!


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  1. Babyjewels

    How long before Vice Chancellor Schmidt is replaced by someone more “agreeable” and “grateful” to his betters.

  2. David Bruce

    Western civilization, based on the Franco-Brutish model. is a despicable tale of death, misery, violent wars with horrendous casualties, a Ponzi money system based on usury and the divine right of kings and queens. What we learned at school is the sanitized version. I was very impressed with the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with their murals depicting the valiant soldiers putting babies to the sword. More recently Anna von Reitz has published a historical summary of the deeds of these pillars of Western Civilization! I also thought Dum Dum (hollow point) bullets were outlawed under the Geneva Convention on warfare. When snipers use them against children in Palestine, the results are devastating! Now I learn that police forces (er Services) use them with their Glocks!
    As George HW Bush said, if people knew what we were doing we would be tarred and feathered (polite interpretation). Hope I see the pitchforks coming in my lifetime!

  3. johno

    When is John Howard going to put himself out to pasture, the little fear/war monger.

  4. Josephus

    All empires are brutal so yes, the West is a mixed bag of atrocities and better aspects, note eg Hong Kong striving in vain to keep its British legal system and pluralistic Press. What have dum dum bullets to do with Western or any civilisation?
    European courses are neither apologetic post hoc fairy tales, nor self righteous tirades on how bad some states were. Topics like the Fall of the Wall or communism cite multiple intelligent voices. A woman engineer jobless in 1991 Dresden saw her situation differently from that of a Western magazine model, and one soap power that worked was not worse than 30 brands all much the same. Courses on the EU can be critical, eg about corruption and self delusion, as well as on cooperation and worker protection. Any one sided, blinkered view of a civilisation is non professional. To pit some tired teleological nonsense a la Abbot against an equally tired tirade as above is childish. Vaccination , burning heretics alive, both are ‘European’. Students can smell a bigoted Marxist, a conspiracy theory nationalist or a starry eyed Europeanist easily and dislike the lot. Unis are places of debate and multi faceted evidence.

  5. Really

    Don’t we all yearn for the days in the 80s when we could go to uni and study History and Politics of the Soviet Union.

  6. Geoff Andrews

    I would have thought that Ramsay’s first choice would have been Bond University.
    Maybe they were thinking of status.

  7. helvityni

    What kind of subjects will Michaelia and Barnaby teach…? Abbott can run a gym in the uni basement..?

  8. Terence Mills


    Michaelia : saying nothing with loud voice projection and extreme enunciation

    Barnaby : How to make money out of public life & get a bit on the side as well : a personal memoir

  9. New England Cocky

    Well helvityni,
    1. Michaelia does a wonderful masquerade as a brothel madam; and
    2. Barnyard is a self-confessed adulterer, so there may be opportunities there.

    Toxic RAbbott has little to endear him to anyone, Scat Morriscum is best left in his Christian pipe-dream and Peter Dutton, the Minister for Xenophobia, would look nice as the sole occupant and night watchman on a desert island somewhere well out in the Pacific, beyond Nauru or Manus.

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