Sarah Keenan : A resignation

On Monday morning it was announced in the Australian media that the University of Wollongong (UoW) had entered a $50million deal with The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation and would be hosting its degree program for the next eight years. The announcement came as news to UoW staff, from whom the university’s negotiations with the Ramsay Centre have been kept secret. This secrecy was likely a strategic decision to avoid staff and public resistance to dealing with the Ramsay Centre, which has already been rejected by other Australian universities. The Ramsay Centre board is headed by former conservative Prime Minister, architect of Australia’s policy of detaining irregular migrants on remote Pacific islands and the ‘Northern Territory Intervention’ which stigmatised remote Aboriginal communities and enabled a sweeping range of punitive paternalistic measures, some of which continue to this day. Other board members include former conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott, famous for his election-winning ‘stop the boats’ slogan and, recently, for saying that the arrival of the British First Fleet of convict settlers to Australia was ‘a good thing‘ for Aboriginal people.

 

Following the announcement, I sent this letter of resignation from my position of Senior Research Fellow at the UoW Legal Intersections Research Centre to the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts.

 


 

Dear Professor Farrell

 

It is with great sadness that I am writing to you to resign from my position as a Visiting Senior Fellow at the University of Wollongong’s Legal Intersections Research Centre (LIRC) due to UoW’s announcement that it will be hosting the Ramsay Centre’s degree in Western Civilisation.

 

I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting UoW over the past two years, engaging in the exchange of intellectual ideas with LIRC members and graduate researchers. My fellowship thus far has been a generative, collaborative association and I had looked forward to making more of it in the upcoming year by building interdisciplinary connections with UoW’s School of Geography and Sustainable Communities. However, I cannot in good faith retain a fellowship at a university that is hosting a degree with a blatant ideological commitment to the uncritical centring of Anglo-European culture, values and history. As has been pointed out by others, Anglo-European culture, values and history already dominate the curriculum in Australian universities. Indeed, Australian higher education is notable for its lack of degree courses on race, colonialism or Aboriginal studies. What the Ramsay Centre seeks to do is institutionalise a far-right intellectual agenda into Australian higher education.

 

The Ramsay Centre’s attempted entry into Australian universities is occurring at a time when populist white supremacist movements are being invigorated and normalised both nationally and internationally. The Australian government’s refusal to accept the moderate proposals put forward by the Uluru Statement from the Heart, its continuing removal of Aboriginal people from their land, families and culture, and its uniquely cruel regime of indefinitely detaining irregular migrants on remote extra-territorial islands under conditions found by the UN to constitute torture, are each undergirded by the premise that Anglo-European (ie ‘Western’) civilisation is both superior to and under threat from “other”, read non-white, civilisations. The Trump presidency and the Brexit vote are similarly reliant on, and in turn reproductive of, an ideological commitment to Anglo-European supremacy. This ideological commitment involves side-lining the historical reality that Anglo-European colonisation was perpetuated through land theft, enslavement, terrorism and mass murder, and that these histories remain largely unacknowledged and unaddressed.  In this climate, it is essential that universities refuse the lucrative financial reward being offered by the Ramsay Centre for providing its dangerous agenda with institutional facilities and intellectual legitimacy.

 

Finally I note that to my knowledge, LIRC members have had no input into the university’s decision to sign the deal with the Ramsay Centre, and that indeed it was kept secret from both the public and from UoW staff until the deal was signed last Friday.

 

Sincerely

Sarah Keenan

 

 

 





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