Two hundred professors at the University of Sydney, Australia, have signed an open letter urging the rejection of a proposed course on ‘Western Civilisation’. They claim the subject is ‘chauvinistic’, a ‘tool of European supremacism’ and that it would ‘lend credibility’ to ‘sexist, racist and Islamophobic politics’.
Salvatore Babones, one of the Sydney University academics opposing the anti-Western-Civilisation campaign, writes:
When the Australian healthcare entrepreneur Paul Ramsay passed away in 2014, he dedicated a portion of his estate to helping students “explore how our civilisation had grappled with life’s biggest issues and history’s greatest challenges”. Thus was born the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation. And thus was born a great education debate.
The Ramsay Centre has been trying all year to get one of Australia’s premier universities to offer a bespoke degree in Western Civilisation. The idea is to offer generous scholarships to attract some of Australia’s most talented students to read the classics of Western civilisation in small seminars of six to eight students. What’s not to like?
Plenty, if you ask the professors at the University of Sydney. Two hundred of them have signed an open letter calling the proposed program “chauvinistic” and a tool of “European supremacism”. A smaller group went even further, warning in promotional material for a public protest meeting that a deal with the Ramsay Centre would “lend credibility” to “sexist, racist and Islamophobic politics”.
The Ramsay Centre is now the biggest hot potato in Australian higher education. Earlier this year, the ANU pulled the plug on Ramsay Centre negotiations in order to “protect its academic freedom”, in the words of vice chancellor Brian Schmidt. The ANU’s chancellor Gareth Evans went even further, warning other universities to check “the teeth of this particular gift horse”. It’s never been so hard to give money away. The VC doth protest too much?
This problem, widespread across Western academe, dates back at least three decades to an incident at Stanford University in California. In 1997 – the same year that Allan Bloom launched his attack on political correctness in The Closing of the American Mind – a crowd of around 500 students and faculty members at Stanford gathered to hear a speech by black civil rights campaigner, the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The mob then marched on the university Senate, repeatedly chanting “hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Culture’s got to go.”
As Christopher Booker recounts in a forthcoming book, this was a landmark moment in the development of political correctness:
The specific target of the Stanford students and more radical faculty members was a course open to all students designed to introduce them to the history, ideas and literary classics of “Western Culture”. Everything about the picture this gave of the world, the protesters had come to believe, was wrong and deeply offensive, particularly on all issues relating to gender, race and class.
For centuries, their new narrative ran, the patriarchal, white, elitist, capitalist, Western world had oppressed women, racial and sexual minorities and the lower ranks of society. This was reflected in the course’s set books, all written by “dead, white males” such as Plato and Shakespeare. The concerns and views of women, black Americans and other racial and cultural groups were simply shut out of the picture.
In the name of the new buzz-words of “diversity” and “multi-culturalism” all this elitist, sexist, racist, Euro-centricity had to be thrown into the Marxists’ “dustbin of history”. Over the following months, led by student activists and faculty members (many of whom had been “radicalised” in the neo-Marxist student protests of the late Sixties) – and enthusiastically supported by the university’s president, Donald Kennedy – a new course was concocted to replace “Western Culture”, to be called just .“Culture, Ideas and Values”.
Out went any idea of “universalism”, and that the great authors of the past might have been concerned with trying to convey truths applicable to all mankind. The new guiding principle was “relativisn”, and that the students should simply “experience” many different viewpoints, through a hotch-potch of texts old and more often new, many of which had been chosen because of their particular focus on issues of gender, race and class.
One of the excuses being given by the Australian professors for rejecting the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation’s sponsorship offer is that it is “political”. Ramsay Centre’s chairman is former Australian Prime Minister John Howard; another of its members is ex-PM Tony Abbott. Both are Liberals (ie from Australia’s conservative party).
Of course it is “political.” It is an attempt to wrest at least a portion of academe from the stranglehold of the left and its obsession with cultural Marxist, post-modernist non-subjects like gender studies.