Chaplains charged

After years of being charged a discounted rate for Students’ Union facilities, the University of Calgary Chaplains now have to pay more to a cash-strapped SU.

Since the beginning of the Winter semester, the rates charged to the Chaplains for use of rooms in MacEwan Hall and MacEwan Students Centre have increased by as much as 500 per cent. In the most notable case, Catholic Chaplain Father Liem Tran was billed $2,713.52 for use of facilities between Easter and Ash Wednesday this year, compared to around $600 a year ago. Similarly, the Chaplains’ Centre is now being charged $385.20 for the use of the MacEwan Hall Ballroom for the monthly interdenominational service known as Breathe, compared to the previous fee of $171.20.

Four years ago, an agreement was set up between the university, the SU and the Chaplains to give the Chaplains two free bookings a week. Although nothing was put in writing, the understanding remained until recently.

SU Vice-President Operations and Finance Robbie White explained that the decision to charge the Chaplains for using the facilities was not made by him, but by Conference and Events Services.

“The decision to provide a discount was made a few years back,” White stated. “The staff decided to go back to not offering a discount.”

White added that the SU executive would be meeting on Thu., Feb. 13 to further discuss the situation.

Baptist Chaplain Mel Cruickshank pointed out that the U of C Muslim community uses the Ballroom each Friday, and is not charged for either use of the room or for set up.

“We are in no way asking for the Muslim community to be charged for use of the Ballroom,” said Cruickshank. “We commend [the SU] for not charging them, but we think they should be fair.”

White pointed out the differences in setup required for Breathe and the Muslim students and said that the booking fee is waived for both events, but Breathe is charged for set-up.

The Chaplains’ facilities in MacEwan Hall are paid for by the university, and their salaries are paid for by the religious communities they represent, so they cost the SU nothing. In addition to five (soon to be six) Christian chaplains, there are contacts provided for Buddhist, Muslim and Jewish students.

In surveys done by the Chaplains’ Office between 1999 and 2002, 86 per cent of first-year students claimed some religious background. Cruickshank argues that this is reason enough for the SU to provide a discount for religious groups.

“I think [the SU] has lost touch with who they’re working for,” he said. “Spirituality is an issue that’s important to many students.”

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