Ramsay Centre should take its money and seek truth elsewhere

Ramsay Centre should take its money and seek truth elsewhere, by Greg Sheridan.

Now that the Australian National University has shown us beyond any possible doubt how illiberal, intolerant and anti-Western our big public universities have become by rejecting the prospect of a centre for the study of Western civilisation, it is of the greatest ­importance that the Ramsay Centre, which offered the funding, not get into bed with any other big, public university.

Ramsay must face up to the ­difficult, perhaps bitter, task of ­rethinking its model because the model it has, of giving vast amounts of money to public universities to teach undergraduate courses in Western civilisation, cannot possibly yield the results it wants. …

Western civilisation has a huge number of enemies at universities. Ramsay looks like a businessman preparing for a Rotary Club meeting when actually he has been invited to a knife fight. …

Australian public universities are not that different from US and British counterparts. A few weeks ago in London I interviewed Lord Paul Bew, an old-style leftie, for decades professor of politics at Queen’s University Belfast. He is a crossbencher in the Lords. He told me one of his most ­important priorities now was to defend ­private think tanks. “Without them you’d have no real debate,” he said. “State intellectual life would be as rigid as the Soviet Union under Brezhnev.

That’s a bit of ironic exaggeration but his broad point is unarguable. Alternatively, just Google the interview by Dave Rubin with Niall Ferguson, who laments the “gradual homogenisation” of history departments. The left has ­decisively won the culture war at universities and there are now only a few conservatives left, he says. …

So why on earth would anybody think these universities will reverse all existing practice and teach Western civilisation in a way that is remotely sympathetic? Ramsay centres, concerned with teaching undergraduates, will also inevitably be caught up in arts ­department politics, and this will grind them into dust.

The ANU reaction to Abbott is utterly ludicrous, almost Monty Python in its absurdity. Consider a centre on the Middle East. If some sponsor suggested Australians lacked a full appreciation for the human contribution of Middle East cultures, and the centre might help remedy that, this would not be remotely controversial. If a ­Chinese government official said a Confucius Institute would help students appreciate the ­genius of Chinese culture, would anyone bat an eyelid?

Conservatives have been so stupid when it comes to institutional politics:

Australian conservatives have been outplayed again and again and again in institutional politics. They fritter away millions of dollars, sometimes tens of millions of dollars, into institutions that are almost without exception captured by the left. This is often because the people making the financial decisions do not understand the dynamics of institutional control. This is not an indictment of their character. They have been busy running businesses and leading good lives. But their opponents study these matters deeply.

It is also more fun to give large dollops of money to big institutions the left ­approves of. You get invited to opening nights; rooms and floors and sometimes whole buildings are named in your honour. Even the lefties, especially the ones with their eye on the dollars, praise your open-mindedness. And you have absolutely zero effect.

On the other hand, you can undertake to build a new institution, as the founders of Buckingham University in England did 40 years ago. It’s slow, it’s hard, you start out fairly modest. The bien pensants deride you. Any opening nights you go to are modest affairs. But over time you actually have an ­effect.

Hear hear.

hat-tip Stephen Neil