Australia’s former prime minister, Tony Abbott is blamed for nearly everything these days. Higher rates of suicide amongst LGBTIQ youth, global warming as well as the current Prime Minister’s ability to lose more consecutive Newspolls than even he did. But one of the most ridiculous is the claim by Peter Van Onselen in The Weekend Australian.
Apparently, the reason why Van Onselen thinks ANU rejected the Ramsay Centre’s money was because Abbott wrote in Quadrant that the course would not just be about Western civilisation but in favour of it. Oh, the humanity! But in so doing—according to Van Onselen—Abbott was the one responsible for “blowing up a deal simply to get a few cheap headlines”.
What actually was Abbott’s crime? It was to have the temerity to argue that there should be guidelines as to how the $25 million per year from the Ramsay estate should be spent. As Van Onselen complained:
He [Abbott] went on to claim the centre would have a say over curriculum design and academic appointments when giving money to universities, which infuriated some academics (who still believer in academic independence) and many left-wing ideologues within the student and staff unions on campus at ANU.
But as Gerard Henderson rightly pointed out in his article, Conservative money, and values, unsafe in liberal academic hands, Abbott had every reason to be concerned. Just read what Henderson says took place with the United States Study Centre at the University of Sydney. It became a haven for ‘left-leaning’ academics and intellectuals. A veritable mirror image of the ABC. Henderson wrote:
Simon Haines, an English literature specialist based in Hong Kong, has been appointed as inaugural executive director of the Ramsay Centre…
According to Haines, the Ramsay Centre “will not interfere with the universities’ management of their own teaching programs”…
You do not have to be Nostradamus to see that if the Ramsay Centre is set up along these lines, its degree course will be taught by left-liberals and leftists. In short, it will go the way of the USSC…
It is also a warning to conservatives not to waste money funding courses that will be taught by the left or by conservatives who are intimidated by their leftist colleagues. Ramsay deserves a better legacy than this.
In contrast, Van Onselen was apoplectic regarding “the Ramsay Centre’s unofficial design principle to not lose its philosophical direction: Every organisation that’s not explicitly right-wing, over time becomes left-wing”. However, later on in his article Van Onselen himself writes:
The broad point that the so-called left (the labelling is a little crude) is dominant in the sector is absolutely true, although there are many other moving parts that don’t fit that crude classification in big universities. And, yes, at a superficial level there appears to be hypocrisy – universities taking money from non-democracies to fund centres… Of course there’s soft power handing out money but nobody wants that unsaid power to be explicitly detailed in a way that violates academic rules.
Van Onselen has himself, unwittingly, let the proverbial cat out of the bag. Are universities dominated by left-leaning philosophies?
Van Onselen’s answer: Yes, of course they are!
Do said universities take money from ‘tyrannical non-democracies’ (Van Onselen’s own words, not mine) which then promote their own cultural and political agendas?
Van Onselen’s answer: Again, yes. Universities take money from anyone!
What’s the problem with Abbott’s comments then?
Simply, that Australia’s former prime minister was honest—gasp—about what the Ramsay Centre’s goal would actually be – that is the promotion of Western Civilisation, and that they would seek to protect the purpose of the trust from being taken over by the predominantly left-leaning intelligentsia.
Van Onselen’s position seems to be that people should give their money away and simply ‘trust’ the institution to act in accordance with their personal wishes. Someone needs to explain to Van Onselen, that that’s not how bequests function or trust funds operate. But of even more concern was Van Onselen’s own admission that:
Yes, they already were working behind the scenes to scuttle a deal between Australia’s best university—which also houses our only world top 10 humanities division—and the Ramsay Centre. But, courtesy of Abbott, the thing you never want to inject into the deal making moment happened.
[The] ANU had an excuse to say no.
Hence, Abbott was not the reason for the rejection, but the excuse.
Van Onselen’s opposition towards Abbott, in particular, seems to have completely clouded his political judgment, let alone ‘academic independence’. Abbott’s performance alone does not justify his intransigence towards him. What happened at ANU could well be the trigger to the establishment of a liberal arts university that holds firmly to conservative values. I for one certainly hope that’s what takes place. As Mark Latham, has written:
Often in public life, institutions can become so culturally damaged, so mutant in their thinking that the only solution is to close them down and start again. This is true of the ABC, for instance. It’s also a massive problem in higher education, as the ANU shows.
Australia urgently needs a government willing to clean out the university system, to place it in the hands of people who believe in the virtues of Western civilisation. Drain the swamp.
Van Onselen is aware of the potential for something like a dedicated conservative tertiary institution to be established, but he doesn’t think that it will be realised for various socialist reasons. What Van Onselen fails to perceive, though, is that the movement has already begun. Conservatives in the US have already purchased the buildings for a new Western liberal arts academy in Italy.
With the rejection of The Ramsay Centre’s generous financial offer for a degree in Western Civilisation, I wonder whether the Australian National University should consider including adding the term ‘Socialism’ to its title? Then Australians could legitimately refer to it as ANUS.
However, scatological humour aside, whether it’s van Onselen’s mantra of ‘academic independence’, or as Tina Faulk refutes the oxymoron of ‘academic autonomy’, ANU(S) has rightly become the butt of all jokes.
Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
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