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Could we afford not to build it?

Could we afford not to build it?

The Queen's Centre will provide a vital new focal point for campus life, one that will end longstanding student complaints about the state of campus athletics and recreational facilities and spark a revival of the sense of community that's been the wellspring of what Queen's unique and special.

A strong, almost clannish, sense of community has always set Queen's apart from most of its peer institutions. In the beginning, this fighting spirit sustained a small, threadbare school, enabling it not only to survive, but also to grow into one of Canada's foremost universities.

Campus life at Queen's has always been vibrant, dynamic, and fun, albeit a tad insular at times. And because this is such a strongly "residential" school, it's no coincidence that Queen's had one of the first student governments in North America (1858) or that the campus ­newspaper (1873) and radio station (1923) are among the oldest around.

Campus life and Queen's have changed a lot in recent years, of course. The University is larger and more diverse than ever before, and today's students are infinitely more mobile than their parents or grandparents were or ever could afford to be. Although many undergrads still enjoy and take part in weekend athletic events and in an astounding variety of extracurricular activities, the campus does empty out most Fridays when the less-engaged disappear for the weekend. The inevitable result has been a weakening of the fabric of the Queen's community.

What these footloose kids (and alumni to-be) don’t seem to get – and what they overlook – is that extracurricular activities, the friendships, and the enriching life experiences that are there to be savoured – and, yes, sometimes endured – can be as important as any lessons learned in the classroom. And this brings me in a roundabout way to the subject of the new Queen's ­Centre, which is due to open this fall.

This $169-million complex will include facilities for athletics and recreation, socializing, and learning. As Kirsteen McLeod’s article "The new campus gathering spot" points out, when it’s completed the Queen’s Centre will provide a vital new focal point for campus life, one that will end longstanding student complaints about the state of campus athletics and recreational facilities. By accommodating so many communal activities, the Queen’s Centre hopefully also will spark a revival of the sense of community that’s been the wellspring of so much that makes Queen’s unique and special.

I doubt that even those who first ­envisioned the Queen’s Centre project fully appreciated its potential positive ­impact on the grand sweep of the University's history. Going in, these folks couldn’t possibly have foreseen the economic downturn that's wreaked budgetary havoc on this and just about every other North American university.

Skeptics now ask how Queen’s can ever afford such an ambitious capital ­project. That question, valid though it is, ignores two irrefutable points. One is that we can’t undo the decision to build the Queen’s Centre. Two is that the ­recession is bound to end, sooner or later. That said, I can't help but wonder if the more relevant question to ask is this: Could we afford not to build the Queen's Centre?

CONGRATULATIONS to Sara Beck, Artsci’93, whose Review article “A Question of Treason” (Issue #1-2008) has been honoured by the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education as the Best Article (English) published in a Canadian university or alumni magazine in 2008.

After six months of research and writing, Sara recounted the harrowing story of Queen’s math professor Israel Halperin, who in 1947 was falsely accused of passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Sara, a regular contributor to the Review and co-host of our quarterly podcast, QPod, teaches communications at St. Lawrence College in Kingston.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2009-2 cover]