Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation: your questions answered

UOW responds on Ramsay Centre partnership.  

On Monday 17 December 2018, the University announced that it had reached an agreement with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation to offer a new Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation, to be taught in a newly created School of Liberal Arts in the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts.

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation was launched in 2017 following a generous endowment by the late Australian businessman Paul Ramsay AO. Mr Ramsay, who founded Ramsay Health Care, sought to invigorate the study of humanities and liberal arts in Australia and promote interest in, and awareness of, western civilisation.

You can read UOW’s public announcement here.

Many people have asked questions about this decision. Answers to the most frequently asked questions are below.

When did UOW begin negotiations with the Ramsay Centre?

In response to a call from the Ramsay Centre, UOW among about 10 universities, submitted an Expression of Interest in early November 2017 to be a partner university. In early September 2018, UOW was invited to make an initial presentation to the Ramsay Centre Board. It was not until late October 2018 that negotiations began with a view to a partnership. A Memorandum of Understanding between UOW and the Ramsay Centre was concluded and signed on Friday 14 December 2018 and announced on the first business day afterwards, Monday 17 December 2018.

Why were current staff not consulted about this agreement?

UOW joined about ten universities in responding to the Ramsay Centre’s call for Expressions Of Interest over a year ago. Confidentiality was a condition of responding to that EOI and UOW has respected that condition throughout discussions.
In our approach to engaging with the Ramsay Centre, we learned from the experience of other institutions. UOW established a small team to undertake constructive discussions, which addressed all matters related to academic freedom, governance and autonomy from the outset.

Our confidential approach allowed our discussions with the Ramsay Centre to be frank and productive. This was important to establishing firm foundations for a successful partnership.
In addition, UOW’s approach of establishing a dedicated school with academics and support staff recruited specifically to deliver this program means:

  • There will be no impact on the employment arrangements of existing staff in other schools or faculties;

  • There will be no impact on academic freedom for existing staff because no one will be asked to teach this new program against their objections; and

  • It will not negatively impact on the delivery of other programs or courses and will positively contribute to enrolments as students from this program must undertake a major from elsewhere within UOW and can opt to take a double degree.

UOW enters into many MOUs following confidential discussions. In these conditions, it is not unprecedented or unusual for confidentiality to be respected when establishing such agreements.

What will the partnership with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation involve?

Our partnership with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation will enable:

  • Establishment of a new Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation degree

  • Creation of a School of Liberal Arts in the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts

  • Recruitment of ten world class academics, and support staff, specifically to deliver this program

  • Refurbishment of dedicated facilities for the new School of Liberal Arts

  • 150 scholarships

  • International study opportunities for participating students

  • A summer school and visiting speakers program.


Will UOW be publishing the Memorandum of Understanding with the Ramsay Centre?

The Ramsay Centre is making a very generous and significant philanthropic gift, one that is unprecedented in the study of humanities in Australia. UOW has been the beneficiary of other philanthropic gifts and it is normal practice to uphold confidentiality when entering into discussions with a philanthropic partner.

UOW does not normally publicly release MOUs. The ownership of these documents is shared by the signatory organisations and publishing them raises commercial confidentiality implications for all parties that must be considered carefully. This MOU is similar in these respects to many other MOUs signed by the University each year.

As has been publicly reported, the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation is still engaged in discussions with other universities, so the public release of our MOU would have implications for those negotiations. Any decision to publicly release the document would require the agreement of all parties.

The MOU is not being published at this time due to these considerations, but this does not preclude a review of this decision by both parties at an appropriate time in the future.

Can students undertake another degree in addition to the Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation?

Yes, students will be able to study the Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation as a single degree, choosing a major from elsewhere in UOW, or opt to take a double degree. Further details will be worked out in the early months of 2019.

Who is designing the curriculum of the Bachelor in Arts in Western Civilisation?

The curriculum for UOW’s version of this degree was designed by UOW academics in line with broad requirements outlined in the initial call for EOIs. Senior Professor Dan Hutto is the principal architect. Feedback was sought from Ramsay Centre academics, and the only substantive change from this feedback was to reduce the number of subjects required in order to create space for students to take a second major or a double-degree. Feedback was not sought from the Ramsay Centre Board, nor have any members of the Ramsay Centre Board offered any feedback on the curriculum or made more specific demands.

Will the new degree be promoting Western civilisation over others?

Our program respects and values non-Western cultures, civilizations and traditions of thought. Celebrating the greatest achievements of the Western civilization is not, nor should it in anyway encourage anyone to denigrate the great achievements of other cultures or traditions.
To focus on the best of the West is not to say the West is best.

Right from the beginning of the study, students will be introduced to the contributions of other cultures and traditions and their influence on the West. We will ensure that non-Western and under-represented voices and perspectives are acknowledged and brought into the conversation within specific subjects.

The new liberal arts degree is a purely educational enterprise not a political one. We will actively guard against it becoming a vehicle for encouraging or prosecuting culture wars.

Students will have ample opportunity to deepen their understanding of non-Western cultures’ perspectives, delve further into alternative readings of the traditional Western canon, and examine the politics and history of Western states—including the consequences of colonialism and imperialism—by combining their BA in Western Civilization with a major study of other humanities, arts and social science disciplines at UOW.

When will the curriculum be made public?

Once the curriculum has been finalised and approved, we will be making it public. We anticipate this to occur in the early months of 2019.

What is distinctive about the Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation?

We have designed a curriculum that takes students on a chronologically ordered journey through great periods and epochs of intellectual and artistic change in the West. At each stage of their journey, students will engage directly – in depth and detail – with exemplary classic works and masterpieces of Western art and literature. They will not learn about these works in a second-hand manner, they will learn directly from them. They will cultivate open, critical minds along the way. Far from studying the remains of dead authors, our ambition is to put students into live conversation with the great minds of the past and to enable them to see the contemporary relevance of what those minds have to say to us today.

In addition to a focus on classic intellectual and artistic works, philosophical reflection and analysis are the very heart of our program. By joining the great conversation, our students will begin to question what they wouldn’t normally question. Whole subjects in our curriculum will be devoted to dealing with topics in ethics, aesthetics, philosophy of religion and political philosophy. Students will become acquainted with foundational epistemological and metaphysical debates such as those between rationalists and empiricists, idealists and realists. They will confront questions about the nature of the self, truth and reason. The new BA will add a rich new dimension to our current educational offerings.

What kind of student will take the new degree?

Students that are intellectually curious and interested in asking questions about received views and assumptions. Our liberal arts program takes inspiration from the American Philosopher, Robert Hutchins, placing an updated version of his idea of the great conversation at its heart. In such a conversation, Hutchins wrote in 1952, “Nothing is to remain undiscussed. Everybody is to speak [their] mind. No proposition is to be left unexamined.”

For example, students will be confronted with questions about the very idea of Western civilization and its influences on contemporary thought and practice. A major aim of the degree is get students to ask fundamental questions about what they are studying and to give reasons for the views they adopt.

Our ambition is to instil a spirit of open questioning in all of our students and to equip our students to reason about and evaluate possible answers to those difficult questions.

As with our other arts and humanities offerings, they will learn how to think, not what to think.

How will it prepare students for their future career?

Students graduating from this liberal arts degree will have enriched life prospects. The new BA will create erudite and articulate graduates – creative and critical thinkers – with rich firsthand knowledge and engagement with classic works of thought and art. They will have cultivated the intellectual skills and virtues needed for engaging in reason discussing, analysis and argument.

We expect many of our graduates will go on to be leaders in the knowledge economy through sectors including civil society, business and government. We aim to ensure that these graduates are diverse in background, and that they leave us ready to tackle the challenges facing Australia and the world.

Will this degree and its scholarships only benefit privileged students?

UOW has a long history of attracting students who are the first in their family to attend university or who come from non-traditional backgrounds and who go on to succeed in higher education. This aspect of our University is viewed positively by the Ramsay Centre.
We will be recruiting students with high academic achievement onto the degree program. We will also be actively seeking students who meet the academic requirements and who are from outside traditional catchment areas and from non-traditional backgrounds. The program will have a dedicated student recruitment officer to support this aim.

Who will teach the new degree?

Over 2019 to 2021, we will hire nine academics to teach the new degree. We will be conducting a global search for the best academic talent. These colleagues will have regular academic contracts, including normal loading for research, and will accrue research leave entitlement at the normal rate.

What influence will the Ramsay Centre have on curriculum content, staff hires, and/or student recruitment?

In their original call for expressions of interest, the Ramsay Centre stipulated that the course they were seeking to fund must primarily, though not exclusively, focus on great works of Western thought and art, ranging from the classical period to the present, and be taught in small classroom settings. Our curriculum conforms to these requirements. We have also responded to feedback from Ramsay Centre academics on the need to limit the new course to 16 subjects, so as to give space for students to undertake a major or a double degree. Other than requiring these broad aspects of course design and content, the Ramsay Centre has not stipulated how we have constructed our curriculum.

Academic appointment panels will be chaired by either the Vice-Chancellor or the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law, Humanities and Arts, depending on the level of the position being filled. The Ramsay Centre will have input by having representatives on those panels alongside UOW members, but these representatives will not chair the panels; they will not be a majority; nor will they have any overriding deciding vote. It is intended that panel decisions will be made by consensus. None of these arrangements are unusual for academic appointment panels at UOW.

Student recruitment will be controlled and administered entirely by UOW. A Ramsay Scholarship panel with members appointed by the Ramsay Centre and UOW will award the scholarships; this panel will be chaired by the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts.

Will the Ramsay Centre be monitoring classes?

The Ramsay Centre will not be monitoring classes at UOW. Ramsay Centre staff will be invited to visit UOW to observe in person the facilities and our activities. This may include observing some classes but this will not be for the purpose of assessing individual academics or teaching quality. We will draw on UOW’s normal quality assurance processes to generate data for annual reports to the Ramsay Centre on the Bachelors in Arts in Western Civilisation.

Did the Ramsay Centre only choose UOW because ANU withdrew late in its negotiations?

No. The Ramsay Centre have made it very clear in its public statements that our excellence in teaching was a key factor in our selection.

It is also important to note that it has been publicly reported that negotiations with Sydney University and the University of Queensland, are still ongoing.

You can read the Ramsay Centre’s public announcement here.

You can read Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation CEO, Professor Simon Haines, explain in more detail why the Ramsay Centre chose UOW here.