The University of Wollongong yesterday became the first in Australia to begin marketing a Ramsay Centre-sponsored degree in Western civilisation, promising a start date next year after fast-tracking the degree through the university’s approval process.
Details of the Western civilisation degree went up on the university’s website last night, along with a slew of endorsements that Wollongong has obtained from internationally recognised scholars.
Vice-chancellor Paul Wellings defended the decision to fast-track the approval of the course via a clause in the university’s course and subject approval procedures, which allow him to green-light a new course if certain conditions are met. It bypasses the usual scrutiny by the university’s academic senate.
Professor Wellings said it had been important to complete the approval process for the degree quickly because of the tight timetable to complete the prospectus and course materials, advertise to potential students, select the 30 scholarship holders, and be ready to launch in 2020.
The Western civilisation degree met the criteria for fast-tracking, he said, because it was financially sustainable (being underpinned by Ramsay Centre funding) and was academically coherent (which was attested to by internationally recognised scholars)
“Both those two tests are met and those are the main criteria,” he said. “We’ve used a perfectly normal pathway for the university.”
Professor Wellings said he had signed on a number of similar fast-tracked course approvals in the past two years.
Last night the university also released its signed memorandum of understanding with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, which will fund the degree.
The MoU avoids the academic freedom issue that derailed the Ramsay Centre’s negotiations last year for a Western civilisation degree at the Australian National University.
ANU said then that the Ramsay Centre had declined to commit itself to the “principles of academic freedom”.
Professor Wellings said the issue of academic freedom had “not really” come up in Wollongong’s talks with the centre. The Ramsay MoU was consistent with other similar agreements, he said.
“There’s nothing in that MoU with the Ramsay Centre which is exceptional in any way. I don’t recall any other MoU which I have signed which has ever mentioned academic freedom,” he said.
Wollongong’s executive dean who will oversee the new course, Theo Farrell, said a provision in the MoU that permitted visits from Ramsay Centre representatives to observe the classes, inspect facilities and attend social functions underlined the academic independence of the degree from the centre. “Visits will be for observation and social functions — not for any formal teaching evaluation — so they will not impede UoW’s academic independence,” Professor Farrell said.
The MoU also provides for two qualified academics nominated by the Ramsay Centre to sit on selection panels to hire staff to teach the new degree.
Professor Wellings said the Ramsay representatives would be in a minority. “It’s not uncommon for universities to have people from outside their institutions in the appointment process,” he said.
The 30 students to be selected annually for a $27,000-a-year scholarship for the Western civilisation degree will be chosen by a panel that will include representation from the Ramsay Centre as well as university academic staff and other nominated representatives, according to the MoU.
When the course is fully up and running, the Ramsay Centre will pay for 10 academic staff and two support staff, as well as 30 student scholarships commencing every year, at a cost of about $7.5 million annually.
Credit: The Australian Newspaper – click here to read the full article