Sydney University's conditions for Ramsay Centre deal revealed
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Sydney University's conditions for Ramsay Centre deal revealed

Sydney University would limit the Ramsay Centre's participation in a Western civilisation degree to one voice on an appointment panel.

The university would have full control over the curriculum, sole responsibility for staffing and teaching, and require 12 years' worth of guaranteed funding even if the centre decided to pull out after eight.

Students protesting against the Ramsay Centre at the University of Sydney.

Students protesting against the Ramsay Centre at the University of Sydney. Credit:Christopher Pearce

Sydney University presented a draft memorandum of understanding for a partnership with the controversial centre to a tense meeting of academics and students on Monday.

"I've never seen security guards present at a faculty board meeting before, I've never seen the door slammed shut in people's faces," said Professor Linda Connor, one of the National Tertiary Education Union members who addressed the meeting.

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The MOU was presented to the arts faculty board, a 50-strong elected group that usually struggles to achieve a quorum but was on Monday turning students and academics away. There was discussion but no vote.

It was the first time it has been shown to anyone outside a small group of university executives. Those present were told it was commercial-in-confidence.

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However, The Herald understands it stipulates that the university would require full responsibility for delivering and managing the degree, and control over curriculum, admission, teaching, marking, graduation of students and staff appointments.

It would be able to second staff already working at the university to teach the course.

One academic member of the Ramsay centre would be allowed on the appointment panel, likely either its chief executive Simon Haines or its executive officer of academic, Dr Stephen McInerney, formerly of private Campion College.

The university would be responsible for delivering and managing the program. Ramsay would have the right to review after eight years, but the university would want a guarantee of 12 years' worth of funding to complete degrees if it pulled out.

It would also reserve the right to continue the course without Ramsay's money.

The Ramsay Centre board, which includes former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott, has yet to see the draft MOU. Last week, vice-chancellor Michael Spence said Professor Haines had seen an early, dot-point draft.

University of Sydney vice-chancellor Dr Michael Spence.

University of Sydney vice-chancellor Dr Michael Spence. Credit:Louise Kennerley

The Ramsay Centre wants to fund a Western civilisation degree, with Oxbridge-style small tutorials at two or three Australian universities. The funding comes from a $3 billion bequest from late healthcare magnate Paul Ramsay.

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However, there has been deep controversy over Sydney's involvement after the Australian National University pulled out of talks citing the centre's demands for unprecedented influence – claims that the centre denies.

The provost,  Stephen Garton, who drafted the MOU, and Professor Peter Anstey, who put together an early draft curriculum, both spoke in favour of moving forward with negotiations.

However, six out of the seven people who spoke from the floor opposed any partnership with Ramsay. They included the two union representatives and student representatives.

Professor Connor, one of the union representatives, told the meeting that academic governance at the university had been considerably weakened. "Accepting the Ramsay Centre proposal will damage it irretrievably," she said.

Nick Riemer, the second union representative, said any collaboration with Ramsay, however rigorous the academic oversight, would be "seized on by tabloid commentators and right-wing politicians in order to legitimate a broader politics of divisiveness and xenophobia in society".

Some University of Sydney staff, students and alumni were blocked from entering. Yaegan Doran, a lecturer in linguistics at the university, and at least two other academics were told they could not enter the room, as dozens of other staff were let in.

Students protesting at the university.

Students protesting at the university. Credit:Christopher Pearce

Dr Doran said "very few" teaching staff were in favour of the new course but it might be introduced regardless. "You can never tell with management, they're fully for it and the money that comes with it," Dr Doran said.

Political economy student Lily Campbell, who is also the education officer on the Student Representative Council, said the exclusion of certain staff, alumni and students was "pretty telling".

"We thought the draft MOU was going to be pretty watered down given the [opposition] but it seems as strong as ever," Ms Campbell said.

After the meeting, Professor Garton congratulated the faculty board for the "thoughtful and engaged debate".

The discussion proved academic independence was a common value. Some were deeply opposed, while others would find a Ramsay deal acceptable if independence was absolutely guaranteed.

"The next step will be to initiate wider university consultation," he said.

Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald

Education reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald