At the University of Alberta, graduates are handed a diploma during a ceremony where the chancellor says the following:
“I charge you to use [the powers, rights, and privileges of University degrees] for the glory of God.” It’s commonly understood that the big-G “God” here is some variant of the monotheistic God (or the one Jews, Christians, and Muslims live in fear of).
Ian Bushfield, an atheist, attends that university and has the gall to want his beliefs to be respected and included in his graduation ceremony.
After discovering this issue, the University of Alberta Atheists and Agnostics (UAAA) drafted a letter which was sent to the President’s Office on 14 July. Hope for a quick move to inclusiveness was dashed when, nearly a month later, the UAAA received a brief response stating that office had discussed the issue earlier and decided against doing anything. After the the minutes of the meeting featuring this discussion were requested, the President’s office decided that this was an issue that required a FOIPP request.
It’s disappointing to hear that this University wishes to remain in its dark-aged roots, and that they couldn’t even provide a reason for their decision not to change the charge even with sizable opposition. In spite of relatively little awareness of this issue, a petition has recieved over a hundred signatures from students who are outraged by this break in secular values and the separation of church and state, and a comparable number of members in a Facebook group for the same purpose. However, their voices remain unacknowledged.
It shouldn’t be unreasonable for a group of students who pay upwards of $25 000 to get a degree to ask to be included in a celebration of their achievements. The President’s disregard for such legitimate concerns is abhorrent and intolerant, and I call for a secular convocation at the University of Alberta and an end to the denigration of the hard work of all students.
For a public institution, it seems paradoxical to bring a god into a ceremony celebrating, of all things, a world class education.
Maybe if the story gets enough publicity, the school might find this issue worthy of actual response or action.
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