Over recent months you will have read some commentary about our university’s decision to establish a new degree – a BA in Western Civilisation (BA WCiv). I am writing to you to set out some of the background to the evolution of this course, the way it will operate, and how it fits with UOW’s vision, values and goals.
The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation (RCWC) is a philanthropic organisation seeking to promote studies and discussion associated with the establishment and development of western civilisation; partly in partnership with universities. UOW joined a number of other universities in responding to RCWC’s call for expressions of interest in late 2017.
The RCWC and the University concluded a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in mid-December 2018 which sets out a number of key features to protect values which all of us in UOW hold dear. Academic freedom is a value shared equally by both RCWC and UOW and was accepted as a fundamental principle underpinning any arrangements moving forward. We are committed to ensuring that our arrangement with RCWC in connection with the new course guarantees the protection of our institutional autonomy, controls, and academic freedom. The MOU also recognises that the curriculum for this new course will be designed and approved using our processes.
A new School of Liberal Arts (within the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts) was established as a home for the new degree, and to give our university the opportunity to create additional research and teaching activities in the Liberal Arts in years to come and to integrate these with our strengths in the humanities and elsewhere.
The approach taken by the Faculty ensures that colleagues working in other Schools in our university are not required to teach any subjects specific to the BA WCiv, and are able to maintain their teaching and research activities without having to make adjustments for the new degree. This is a distinctive UOW strategy which differs from the approach currently being taken at other universities where the degree has been conceptualised as a new major.
The BA WCiv is an opportunity to expand our course offerings, demonstrate our widely recognised capability in high quality teaching and learning, and attract great students from our catchment and beyond.
I approved the new course on 17 January 2019 under UOW’s long-standing fast-track course approval process. The fast track process has existed for over 20 years and has been used to both create and discontinue courses and subjects, as well as to generate academic activities in new locations.
The NTEU and one member of staff have challenged the legality of the decision to approve the course. As this matter is now before the Court, I am constrained about providing further details regarding the decision, save to say that the University is defending the lawfulness of the decision and is supportive of the introduction of the course in time for the 2020 autumn intake. Following extensive discussions at Council, the Chancellor has publicly stated her support for the course and our future relationship with RCWC.
Academic Senate noted the creation of the Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation as well as five new joint degrees at its meeting on 20 March 2019. At the same time, it noted that five degrees and diplomas were to be discontinued elsewhere in the University. In the same meeting, the Senate also registered its objection to the use of the fast-track process in this instance and called for the process (not this specific decision) to be included in the scope of an upcoming procedural review. These resolutions have been advised to the University Council in keeping with our established governance processes.
During 2018, we launched our 2030 and Beyond Vision: which sets out values which are at the heart of our university: intellectual openness, excellence and dedication, empowerment and academic freedom, mutual respect and diversity, and recognition and performance. These are values which we can all embrace in respectful and considerate discussions as we bring this new course to life.
I understand and respect that recent actions of protest may have been motivated by deeply held personal convictions and genuine desires for what individuals consider to be in the best interests of the institution. However, I reassure you that the new degree is framed around many significant 21st century issues, in particular, the development of multicultural understanding, and will demonstrably strengthen the work of our university.
UOW’s $50 million funding over eight years from the RCWC is a major opportunity for humanities scholars. Here at UOW it will generate 10 positions and fully fund about 30 students a year, each for five years. This is one of the largest donations for the humanities in the history of Australian universities and will give UOW a distinctive platform for the future.
I expect that up to three universities will receive philanthropic support in this way from RCWC. It is a testament to the hard work of colleagues in LHA and elsewhere in our university that we have been able to generate such an outstanding offering in such a short period.
I encourage you to take some time to read for yourself all the information about this new degree (including commendations of the course by leading Liberal Arts scholars around the world) available on our frequently asked questions page and share our positive perception of this initiative.
With best wishes,
Professor Paul Wellings CBE