Her comment, which was posted on the Staff Against the Ramsay Centre: For Academic Autonomy + Diversity at USyd Facebook page, declared that the proposed partnership between @Sydney_Uni and the #RamsayCentre “should be a common concern to everyone interested in autonomy, freedom and the progress of knowledge”.
The comment arises following extensive backlash by academics of USYD toward the Ramsay Centre’s proposed western civilisation degree, which they say is incompatible with academic autonomy due to its implied political agenda in the form of a “conservative, culturally essentialist, and Eurocentric vision” of the world.
The Ramsay Centre’s western civilisation degree was formulated as part of a $3.3 billion bequest made by the late healthcare businessman, Paul Ramsay.
The centre, which identifies its purpose in the advancement of “education by promoting studies and discussion of western civilisation”, made attempts to implement the degree at the Australian National University earlier this year, but was turned away following revelation that the organisation wished to conduct “health checks” on the taught curriculum.
ANU vice chancellor Brian Schmidt told the ABC AM that the centre wanted to assess the quality of what was being taught by having centre representatives sit in on classes.
“To have a group come through and literally look at the performance of the staff members, go in and see how it’s being conducted really goes against [academic] autonomy,” he said.
After being rejected by ANU, the centre set its sights on USYD as a partnership possibility.
The Ramsay Centre board includes former prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard.
In April, Abbott published an article in conservative periodical Quadrant stating that the Ramsay Centre was “not merely about western civilisation but in favour of it”.
Abbott criticised contemporary university education, writing that the curriculum was “pervaded by Asian, Indigenous and sustainability perspectives”, prompting more than 100 academics at USYD to sign an open letter opposing the degree.
They argue that the “cultural and intellectual legacies” of the west are already “intensively studied” at the university, and that Ramsay could have economically contributed to existing humanities programs rather than fostering an entirely new degree.
The fact that he chose not do so indicates a wider political intention not within the standing norms of academic independence, the letter alleges.
Staff Against the Ramsay Centre will host a public meeting at USYD on Monday, October 29, against the centre’s attempts to produce “a ‘cadre’ of students ready to 'defend' the West against its supposed enemies”.
Cannova, who studied at the Università degli Studi di Palermo and the Université Grenoble Alpes in France, worked for four years as Director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Sydney, before moving to Argentina at the end of 2017 to take on the role in Buenos Aires.
Her comment in opposition to university partnership with the Ramsay Centre demonstrates international commitment to maintain academic independence in the face of an insurgent far right of global politics.