Dr Sarah Keenan: Why I Resigned my Fellowship at the University of Wollongong

On Sunday 16 December, news broke that the University of Wollongong had reached an agreement with the Ramsay Centre to run a Bachelors degree in Western Civilisation. The news came as a shock to Wollongong staff, who had been kept entirely in the dark about their university’s long-running negotiations with Ramsay. The NSW branch of the NTEU has launched a petition opposing the partnership, and Wollongong staff and students have started to organise against it.

In response to the decision, Dr Sarah Keenan, Senior Lecturer in Law at Birkbeck School of Law, University of London, announced that she would resign immediately from her visiting fellowship at Wollongong. In the letter below, she provides her reasons why.

Dear Professor Farrell,

It is with great sadness that I am writing to you to resign from my position as a Visiting Senior Fellow at the University of Wollongong’s Legal Intersections Research Centre (LIRC) due to UoW’s announcement that it will be hosting the Ramsay Centre’s degree in Western Civilisation.

I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting UoW over the past two years, engaging in the exchange of intellectual ideas with LIRC members and graduate researchers. My fellowship thus far has been a generative, collaborative association and I had looked forward to making more of it in the upcoming year by building interdisciplinary connections with UoW’s School of Geography and Sustainable Communities. However, I cannot in good faith retain a fellowship at a university that is hosting a degree with a blatant ideological commitment to the uncritical centring of Anglo-European culture, values and history. As has been pointed out by others, Anglo-European culture, values and history already dominate the curriculum in Australian universities. Indeed, Australian higher education is notable for its lack of degree courses on race, colonialism or Aboriginal studies. What the Ramsay Centre seeks to do is institutionalise a far-right intellectual agenda into Australian higher education.

The Ramsay Centre’s attempted entry into Australian universities is occurring at a time when populist white supremacist movements are being invigorated and normalised both nationally and internationally. The Australian government’s refusal to accept the moderate proposals put forward by the Uluru Statement from the Heart, its continuing removal of Aboriginal people from their land, families and culture, and its uniquely cruel regime of indefinitely detaining irregular migrants on remote extra-territorial islands under conditions found by the UN to constitute torture, are each undergirded by the premise that Anglo-European (ie ‘Western’) civilisation is both superior to and under threat from “other”, read non-white, civilisations. The Trump presidency and the Brexit vote are similarly reliant on, and in turn reproductive of, an ideological commitment to Anglo-European supremacy. This ideological commitment involves side-lining the historical reality that Anglo-European colonisation was perpetuated through land theft, enslavement, terrorism and mass murder, and that these histories remain largely unacknowledged and unaddressed.  In this climate, it is essential that universities refuse the lucrative financial reward being offered by the Ramsay Centre for providing its dangerous agenda with institutional facilities and intellectual legitimacy.

Finally I note that to my knowledge, LIRC members have had no input into the university’s decision to sign the deal with the Ramsay Centre, and that indeed it was kept secret from both the public and from UoW staff until the deal was signed last Friday.


Sarah Keenan