On 1st June 2018 the Vice-Chancellor of The Australian National University, Professor Brian Schmidt announced that the University had decided not to pursue “a proposed partnership and scholarship program” with The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.
Conservative media such as The Australian newspaper and the Sky News network have subsequently attacked The ANU for its decision. Vice-Chancellor Schmidt and Chancellor Gareth Evans have responded publicly in a blog post (25th June 2018) and in a Conversation article (30th June 2018) explaining that The Ramsay Centre sought control over hiring decisions, disagreed with The ANU’s support for academic freedom, and wanted its representatives to provide “health checks” surveillance of ANU classes and lecturers.
The ANU’s policy on External Project Funding and Agreements is clear that the University will not sign agreements with external partners where “academic freedom and integrity” are threatened, a “third party” seeks to control University staffing decisions, or “The agreement places unmanageable levels of risk or liability on the University.”
Vice-Chancellor Schmidt and Chancellor Evans’ comments show that the Ramsay Centre’s negotiation demands conflicted with the above University policy, which is part of its corporate governance and risk management controls. Consequently, an agreement that was acceptable to both parties could not be reached in this specific instance.
The Australian‘s op-ed columnists and editors reject this plausible explanation. Instead, they have spent the past month to hone a culture war narrative: one that blames and scapegoats The Australian National University Student Association, the National Tertiary Education Union, and academics with research expertise in postmodern critical theory. This culture war narrative has now been applied to Sydney University and its academics, many of whom are young, emerging researchers.
Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of The Media (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988) discusses a crucial concept that explains why conservative media have attacked The ANU. In the United States, lobbyists and special interest groups would use flak to attack journalists in order to silence them. Rupert Murdoch’s innovation was for his media organisations to adopt flak strategies against people and institutions who he ideologically disagreed with.
Media organisations like The Australian and Sky News are mobilising their readers and viewers through flak. This includes the editorial-accepted use of disinformation, out-group stereotypes, and the selective omission of relevant facts. It’s telling that The Australian refused to print Vice-Chancellor Schmidt and Chancellor Evans’ Conversation article because it showed the newspaper’s editorial position to be based on falsehoods. If you believe in Western Civilisation values then you fight for reasoned truth – not lies (Plato).