While the Newman Center dorms are still under construction, Troy University has taken steps to ensure it’s here to stay.
University officials, along with the Catholic Archbishop of Mobile, Thomas Rodi, signed a 25-year lease for the 2,400 square foot property to the Archdiocese of Mobile.
“It is the essential role of a university to build the foundation on which students will prepare to not only make a living but also build a life,” Rodi said at the signing.
“A university is more than just a place where learning takes place in classrooms. It is a place that encourages dialogue of differing ideas. It is that type of dialogue that makes the heart feel and compels us to act,” he added, harkening back to the university’s motto of preparing “the mind to think, the heart to feel and the body to act.”
Senior vice chancellor for advancement and external relations, John Schmidt, said he agreed with the archbishop and thought the building represented Troy’s commitment to healthy values.
“I strongly believe that if we can add value to a student’s life and their character, we have this one chance to do that through higher education,” he said, “and I strongly believe we have a responsibility to teach students to be good people and I believe your faith is part of that.”
Schmidt said the Newman Center had been in the works ever since a firm in Dallas called the Newman Connection contacted the university in 2011.
When the two parties couldn’t reach a financial agreement, university chancellor Jack Hawkins encouraged that other avenues be explored, and so the relationship with the archdiocese began.
While Newman Centers can be found on campuses across the country, Schmidt said most are standalone features, like a student center. Troy’s will be unique in that it is inside of a residence hall, which is designed to encourage the same values.
This decision was made, in part, by the results of two national surveys showing an overwhelming interest in faith-based activities and programs for Troy students.
The first survey, the Corporate Institutional Research Program (CIRP) created by the University of California system, is administered to all first-time, full-time freshmen at Troy. When asked if the availability of spiritual options on Troy’s campus was important to them, approximately 80 percent said yes, according to John Dew, senior vice chancellor of student services.
The other survey, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), given to a random selection of undergraduate students, showed similar results.
Dew noted that the surveys were indicative of local cultural mindsets, but felt the results couldn’t be ignored.
“This all reflects on the region and the state of Alabama, of course,” he said, “but to get such similar feedback from two different national surveys from external organizations is something significant to consider.”
Despite these surveys, students have met the project with mixed feelings.
“I feel that it is great we have more dorms for students to live in,” Nelson Jancaterino, a senior political science major from Montgomery said.
“I also don’t not mind if private entities want to build dorms for students to live in. However, since Troy University has a housing problem, I find setting restrictions on how get preference unethical,” he said, mentioning requirements for letters of recommendation and preference given to students with active involvement in campus ministries.
“If the Church want to build dorms, then that is fine, but since this is a publicly-funded university, all students should receive the same opportunity to live in the dorms. If they don’t like that, then maybe they should have just built a free-standing Newman Center like the BCM (Baptist Campus Ministries) or The Christian Student Center.”
According to Schmidt, the Newman Center is not a public expression of support for religion nor does it represent the university denying rights.
Even though university administrators signed the lease, he said, the land was purchased and leased by the Troy University Foundation, a private organization that operates on the university’s behalf, rather than the university itself.
Instead, he said, he hoped it would be a place that would facilitate discussion among a variety of worldviews.
“I hope that discussion of faith-based and morality issues will be addressed– real issues that will be encountered in the real world,” he said.
The Newman Center is accepting housing applications and is scheduled to be complete and habitable for the fall semester.