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 (FAQs) are below.
These FAQs were updated on Tuesday 12 February 2019 following the public release of the course curriculum, Memorandum of Understanding and related documents. You can access these documents below:
Questions about the partnership
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
- 30 annual scholarships
- International study opportunities for participating students
- A summer school and visiting speakers program.
The small group teaching setting planned for this degree will support the personalised approach to teaching and learning for which UOW is renowned and has received international acclaim.
When did UOW begin negotiations with the Ramsay Centre?
In response to a call from the Ramsay Centre UOW, along with a significant number of 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 a number of other 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.
When considering whether and how to respond to the call for expressions of interest for a Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation in mid-2017, senior academics from the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts were advised and consulted. Senior Professor Daniel Hutto was chosen to lead the bid and, while honouring confidentiality requirements, he consulted with relevant and suitably qualified academics and stakeholders. This approach is consistent with principles commonly applied when preparing submissions for research grants or engaging prospective benefactors.
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.
Also, 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;
- It will not negatively impact on the delivery of other programs or courses; and
- It will only positively contribute to enrolments as students from this program will undertake electives, a major or a double degree from elsewhere within UOW.
UOW enters into many MOUs following confidential discussions. It is normal for confidentiality to be respected when establishing such agreements.
Is accepting philanthropic gifts from external donors normal practice in the Australian higher education sector?
Yes. The Australian higher education sector is increasingly accepting significant gifts from philanthropic donors.
Figures from Universities Australia, reported in Times Higher Education in 2016
, indicated that annual donations to Australian universities increased by 83 per cent, from A$161 million in 2005 to A$295 million in 2013.
UOW’s Annual Report lists the many individuals, corporations, trusts and foundations that have donated funds to support the work of the University.
UOW raised over $5.1 million dollars in the calendar year 2018.
How is UOW honouring and protecting its academic freedom and autonomy?
There are many features of this degree’s development and delivery, and of the terms of the partnership, which protect academic freedom and autonomy at UOW.
What influence will the Ramsay Centre have on curriculum content, staff hires, and/or student recruitment?
In its 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 enable students to undertake electives, a major or a double degree from other UOW programs. Other than these broad course design and content requirements, the Ramsay Centre has not stipulated how UOW’s curriculum was to be constructed.
Academic appointment panels will be chaired by either the Vice-Chancellor or the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts, depending on the position being filled. The Ramsay Centre will have two academic representatives on those panels alongside a far larger number of UOW academic panel members. It is intended that panel decisions will be made by consensus. These arrangements are not unusual for UOW academic appointment panels.
Marketing and student recruitment for the degree will be administered by UOW.
A Ramsay Scholarship panel with academic 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 and the scholarships will be administered by UOW.
Will the academics recruited to teach on the degree work for the Ramsay Centre?
No. Academics in the School of Liberal Arts will be selected by UOW-led selection panels and employed by UOW under UOW’s normal academic employment agreement, with its clear academic freedom protections.
Will the Ramsay Centre be monitoring classes?
The Ramsay Centre will not be monitoring classes at UOW.
Ramsay Centre academic staff will be invited to visit UOW to observe in person the facilities and activities and to attend social functions. This may include observing some classes but this will not be for the purpose of assessing individual academics, or teaching quality or any formal evaluation.
We will draw on UOW’s normal quality assurance processes to generate data for annual reports to the Ramsay Centre on the Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation.
Will UOW be publishing the Memorandum of Understanding with the Ramsay Centre?
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was not released previously due to confidentiality considerations, so as to avoid impacting on other negotiations. The parties are now satisfied this risk has abated, allowing for its publication.
The Memorandum was originally signed on Friday 14 December 2018 and publicly announced on Monday 17 December. It was then amended to more clearly describe the purpose and scope of visitation by Ramsay Centre representatives and re-signed on 21 January 2019.
Did the Ramsay Centre only choose UOW because ANU withdrew late in its negotiations?
No. The Ramsay Centre has 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, the University of Queensland and other universities are still ongoing.
Questions about the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation
What is the Ramsay Centre’s mission?
The Ramsay Centre is a philanthropic organisation.
Its objective is: “to advance education by promoting studies and discussion associated with the establishment and development of western civilisation, including through establishing scholarship funds and educational courses in partnership with universities”.
What is the nature of the bequest left by Mr Paul Ramsay AO?
Paul Ramsay was a leading Australian businessman who was passionate about education and wished to educate future generations in the traditions and practices of western civilisation: its history, philosophy, literature, science, theology, music, art and architecture.
Who runs the Ramsay Centre?
The Ramsay Centre is led by its Chief Executive Officer Professor Simon Haines who is supported by Executive Officer (Academic) Dr Stephen McInerney and Executive Officer (Operations) Emma-Kate Bos.
The Ramsay Centre is overseen by a diverse board comprised of prominent people from business, academia, education, politics, the union movement and public administration.
Is the Ramsay Centre a think tank?
No the Ramsay Centre is not a think tank. It has no political party orientation.
It is a philanthropic organisation that seeks to partner with universities to provide students from all across Australia the opportunity to study Western Civilisation and better understand our society’s foundations through an entirely non-political “Great Books” course.
Have any other universities reached an agreement with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation?
On 27 February 2019 it was publicly reported that the University of Queensland Senate (Council) had endorsed that University continuing its discussions with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation with a view to negotiating and entering into a Memorandum of Understanding.
Questions about the degree
Does this degree answer a genuine educational need at UOW?
Yes. The Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts offers subjects which critically examine the West’s legacy and focus on issues of race, gender, class from feminist and non-Western perspectives, but it does not currently have a program devoted to the study of great works of the Western tradition of thought and art. It also currently lacks subjects specifically focused on Greek, Roman, medieval, early modern, enlightenment or 20th century analytic philosophy.
The BA in Western Civilisation will complement our current offerings, adding an extra dimension to our existing academic teaching and research strengths.
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 and challenges them to think for themselves.
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. By learning directly from these works, students will cultivate open, critical minds. Our ambition is to put students into a live conversation with the great minds of the past so they can understand what those minds have to say to us today.
Philosophical reflection and analysis are also at the heart of our program. By joining the great conversation, our students will grapple with concepts they may not otherwise question, such as ethics, aesthetics, philosophy of religion and political philosophy.
By becoming acquainted with foundational epistemological and metaphysical debates such as those between rationalists and empiricists, idealists and realists, students will confront questions about the nature of the self, truth and reason.
What is the origin of Western Civilisation degrees?
Western civilisation degrees have a special provenance and proud history. The first of their kind, a degree called Contemporary Civilisation in the West,
was created for Columbia College of Columbia University in 1919.
It was born out of an effort to restore public faith in Western Civilisation's powerful artistic, literary and philosophical heritage after German forces had tragically misused the "defence of western civilisation" as justification for atrocities committed during the Great War.
What kind of student will take the new degree?
Students who 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, and his idea of the great conversation. Hutchins wrote in 1952, “Nothing is to remain undiscussed. Everybody is to speak [their] mind. No proposition is to be left unexamined.”
Students will be confronted with questions about the very idea of Western civilisation 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.
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.
Will the new degree be promoting Western civilisation over others?
No. Our program respects and values non-Western cultures, civilisations and traditions of thought. Celebrating the greatest achievements of the Western civilisation is not, nor should it in any way, 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 Civilisation with a major study of other humanities, arts and social science disciplines at UOW.
Will the BA in Western Civilisation be a vehicle for promoting ideology?
Unfortunately there have been some uninformed and emotive public statements made claiming UOW’s BA in Western Civilisation will promote ideology. Many were made before the curriculum was publicly released.
Our curriculum and the Socratic teaching method will require students to form their own views and give reasons for their answers to open questions.
Our liberal arts education will equip students to challenge and debate ideas, so they can make up their own mind and resist any form of ideological indoctrination.
UOW respects the rights of individuals to express their views and accepts that deeply held ideologically-based objections to this degree may persist regardless of whatever factual information is provided.
Will students be able to take a critical stance on Western civilisation?
This will be required of all students. The degree embraces an educational philosophy that endeavours to instil a spirit of open inquiry.
A major aim of becoming acquainted with the great ideas and ideals of the Western traditions of art and thought is to ensure they do not “dominate us without our knowing it” (Hutchins 1952, p. 49). In line with the author of The Great Conversation,
the aim of this BA degree is not to promote the ideas of any particular strand in that conversation but rather to ensure the continuance of “the Conversation itself” (Hutchins 1952, p. 49).
With this in mind, students reading for this degree will be required to wrestle, in a meta-reflective way, with a range of questions about Western civilisation.
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.
You can read more about Bachelor of Arts degrees and employability at the links below:
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 will teach the new degree?
Over 2019 to 2021, UOW will hire nine academics to teach the new degree. A global search will be conducted for the best and most suitable academic talent.
These colleagues will have the normal UOW academic contracts, including normal loading for research, and will accrue research leave entitlement at the normal rate.
Who designed the curriculum for 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 expressions of interest. Senior Professor Daniel Hutto is its principal architect.
Professor Hutto sought and received feedback from over 20 highly-respected academics from institutions worldwide with expertise in developing or teaching similar courses centred on the great works of Western civilisation and other traditions of art and thought. He also consulted with representatives of the indigenous community and other stakeholder groups.
Feedback was also sought from Ramsay Centre academics, whose only substantive change was to reduce the number of subjects required in order to enable students to take electives, a second major or a double-degree from other UOW programs..
Has the degree been approved by UOW?
Yes. The curriculum was approved by the Vice-Chancellor in January 2019 under the university’s well established Fast Track approval process. This was necessary in order to meet the tight schedule required to take enrolments for Autumn Session 2020.
When will the curriculum be made public?
The curriculum has been completed and approved and was publicly released on Tuesday 12 February 2019. You can read more about the curriculum, its development and the detailed subject outlines at the documents listed below:
Questions about the approval process
What is the Fast Track Approval Process?
These processes include a fast track approval process whereby a course proposal can be approved by the Vice Chancellor, subject to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) being satisfied that grounds exist to use the process.
Is the Fast Track Approval Process new?
No. The Fast Track Approval Process is a long-standing approval process that has been in place at UOW for more than 20 years.
What grounds must exist to use this process?
The grounds are as follows:
1. There is a demonstrated benefit to the University in fast-tracking the proposal without compromising:
a. the quality of the Course, Major or Specialisation; or
b. the reputation of the University, AND,
2. The proposal relates to
a. a customised course required for a specific client within a short time-frame; or
b. a full-fee paying course where it can be demonstrated that the Faculty has to move quickly to:
i. take advantage of an opening in the market, or
ii. maintain a place in the market, OR,
3. The proposal relates to a course in respect of which there are other circumstances that warrant action related to maintaining or enhancing the University’s competitive position.
The Vice-Chancellor was satisfied that these requirements were met for the Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation.
How often is the Fast Track Approval Process used?
The University uses the Fast Track Approval Process about five times a year on average.
Every time the process is used, the Strategic Course Development Committee, the Quality Assurance Review Group and the Academic Senate are asked to take note of the use of the process. That happens at the next meeting following the approval of a course proposal to approve a course.
Is the Fast Track Approval Process allowed under the Higher Education Standards?
Yes. The Higher Education Standards Framework requires that the University, as a self-accrediting provider, establishes processes for the approval of courses and that these processes are overseen by the peak academic governance body of the University (the Academic Senate).
You can read more about the Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation and UOW’s partnership with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation in the following documents: