If we believe the “long march through the institutions” has been successful then it follows that any pushback is going to encounter resistance. That, in essence, is what is happening as the Australian National University rejects a study and scholarship proposal from the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation and other university faculties prepare to erect the barricades. The episode is a sad indictment on the politicisation of academic institutions and a clear demonstration of just why self-made healthcare and media billionaire Paul Ramsay came to believe such a project would be so vital. Without doubt it is being opposed because it seeks broadly to be in favour of Western civilisation rather than to be ambivalent or antipathetic. This might not be too much to ask from any Western university or, indeed, any institution vaguely familiar with human history and the prosperity, systems and liberties that have been developed. It should almost go without saying that this does not and cannot mean any consideration of Western civilisation should be uncritical — that would be absurd. But it ought not be too much to expect that any organisation aiming to deal in intelligent inquiry can recognise the trend of progress in arts and literature, politics and democracy, academia and innovation, as well as many other spheres.
Certainly, while supporting the stated aims of the Ramsay centre, The Weekend Australian understands the need for academic freedom. Yet it seems incomprehensible that a suitable arrangement could not have been struck; indeed, our understanding is that the draft agreement ensured the ANU would have a majority on the selection panel and therefore a veto power over academic appointments. This would be similar to arrangements for other donor-sponsored programs and grant the fail-safe provision required. It seems likelier, on the evidence available, that the ANU and its vice-chancellor, Brian Schmidt, cowered in the face of strident and politically motivated opposition from student activists and the academic union. Now we have seen staff at the University of Sydney launch a pre-emptive strike against the centre. Led by activist academics who support odious campaigns such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, they oppose the centre because it has connections to people who have been active in the Liberal Party (never mind it includes ALP figures on its board, too) and they claim it will push a chauvinistic view about a “European supremacism”. This is jejune, even undergraduate, behaviour and it tends to underscore exactly the sort of capitulation to superficiality and green-left activism that the Ramsay centre aims to guard against in the ongoing contest of ideas.
Some well-meaning observers, in our pages and elsewhere, suggest it is just too difficult to change the ways or overcome the jaundice of universities and that, to achieve its aims, the Ramsay centre ought to establish itself as an independent institution or in cahoots with a private university. This would be a surrender to those who seek to use our publicly funded universities for their own ideological ends. The great universities of Australia should do better than this; they must become truly pluralistic academies mindful of their heritage and responsibilities, and capable of hosting a centre on Western civilisation without recoiling and becoming bastions of resistance.
To read the full editorial – The Australian