In about my second or third year at the University of Alberta, a referendum was held to charge students a fee to build a new Physical Activities Complex (PAC). The fee failed, in part because students of the day would be paying for a building to come and would also have no input on the design or operation of the facility.
Basically, most of us saw it as a grab by PhysEd students to make everyone pay for them to get a new building.
Well, PAC is back as PAW, but now the fee will only be put in place once the building is finished. Further, it looks like students will actually get a majority role in the makeup of the board of the building.
But there’s another key difference. PAW stands for “Physical Activity & Wellness” and in terms of “wellness” the supporters state the following:
Broad Scope of Wellness – The PAW Centre will combine new construction with renovations of existing facilities in order to address the broader idea of health and wellness. Physical, mental, and spiritual wellness concerns were identified and addressed in the design of the facility. This holistic approach will ensure the PAW Centre appeals to all students. [emphasis added]
So how will they address these spiritual concerns?
- Meditation/Yoga Rooms – special facilities will cater to rapidly-growing programs aiming to focus and relax the body and mind.
- Prayer Space – adequate space for prayer is critical to addressing the spiritual aspects of wellness for many students. The PAW Centre will address the space shortage for groups on campus that desire a large space to pray.
This reminds me of the news releases from the University of Toronto in 2005 when they were building a Multi-Faith Centre. The newly formed UT Secular Alliance, led then by now CFI Canada Executive Director Justin Trottier, opposed the creation of the building on the grounds that a secular university should not be dedicating money to the promotion of religion.
Over a year ago the UofA agreed with the UofA Atheists and Agnostics that the school is a pluralistic secular institution and modified the convocation charge to include more humanistic elements and a sort-of opt-out of using your degree for God. The challenge for the UAAA this time will be to either outright oppose the creation of dedicated prayer space on campus – with student funds – or to demand space for Humanistic and secular world views.
While I am not longer at the school, I will be keenly interested in how this referendum goes, and what dialogue the UAAA can spark.