Steel town uni is right for Ramsay’s new degree – by Prof Simon Haines
Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney by Simon Haines
There has been a lot of publicity this year around the Ramsay Centre’s potential partnerships with universities to create new Bachelor of Arts degrees. What has too often been overlooked is that at its core this is a story about helping our young people to be the leaders of the future. How will these degrees benefit students? How will they benefit their teachers in the humanities disciplines?
The new degrees will enable undergraduates to engage with the great classic “texts” of the Western tradition, from Homer to Kafka, from Socrates to Rousseau to Wittgenstein, from the Parthenon to Picasso, across three years of intensive small-group reading. They read Greek and Latin tragedy and epic, medieval and Renaissance poetry, classical and Enlightenment philosophy, the great pioneer texts in the history of science, the Bible and its legacy, art and architecture.
This isn’t some superficial, touristic survey, to allow elite future leaders to engage in polite cocktailparty chit-chat about masterpieces.
The collaborative exposure to highly complex texts enables students to develop a genuinely critical mindset, applicable in all walks of life, irrespective of their future political or social affiliations, while at the same time making them intelligently aware of a rich and broad intellectual and artistic heritage.
Most of these great works (think Rousseau, Socrates, Wollstonecraft) are themselves models of critical thought, often downright hostile to the societies they were created in.
Our civilisation grew precisely through absorbing their criticisms.
Free critical thought must always be an essential value in our universities and these works are models of that.
Of course, many of them are already taught in different disciplines: but nowhere are they all brought together in a single chronological sequence.
This transformative learning style is unfamiliar in Australia and Britain, but widely practiced in smaller North American liberal art colleges. A feature of the model we propose is that students will still be able to take a second, parallel arts major, and thus qualify for honours if they desire, in, say, history or English, or take a minor in Chinese (Mandarin) or Indigenous studies.
Alternatively they can take a combined degree such as arts/law and acquire a professional qualification. Their education as leaders will thus combine the professional and the contemplative, as well as providing the opportunity for comparative or cross-cultural studies, as they wish.
Thirty students each year from every university we partner with will be awarded generous five-year scholarships to offset living and accommodation costs and enable them to pursue these options without devoting precious time to income-earning. This will give an opportunity to students from diverse backgrounds, some of whom might not otherwise think of taking such a program. At the discretion of partner universities, the degree may also be open to other students who do not hold such scholarships.
Importantly, the centre will be providing funding to hire top-flight teachers and scholars to deliver the course. Our goal here is twofold: to help restore the status of teaching itself, usually now the poor relation in a research- and rankingsobsessed sector; and at the same time to bring desperately needed new career opportunities back into the humanities, where whole departments of philosophy, classics and other vital disciplines are being closed, to the immense impoverishment of our culture and our future leadership. Young scholars are seeing their whole futures disappear before their eyes.
As for our new partnership with the University of Wollongong: our leaders come from and are needed in all walks of life and all parts of the country, not just among the metropolitan elites. Our scholarships intend to recognise this. So does this first partnership with one of Australia’s most forward-thinking, teachingoriented, genuinely progressive, regional universities. From the start, the centre has looked for its partners further afield than just the big-city sandstones. Likewise, we and our partners will be looking beyond the more privileged urban areas for those students who will be among our future leaders.
We hugely look forward to working with our new partners, and with the others still to come.
For the full article please see SMH – https://www.smh.com.au/national/why-steel-town-is-right-for-ramsay-s-western-degree-20181216-p50mjv.html