October 29, 2007

Wilson leads McMaster's liberal arts resurgence with $10-million gift

Hamilton, ON -  McMaster University is embarking on a resurgence that will redefine liberal arts for the 21st century thanks to a $10-million gift from an eminent Canadian business leader. 

The gift from McMaster Chancellor Lynton (Red) Wilson is part of the University’s plan to revamp how the liberal arts are defined and taught through one-of-a-kind initiatives that range from the Centre for Global Citizenship Experiences and the Wilson Centre for Canadian History to Collaborations for Health and the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind.

A new signature liberal arts building will be home to many of these initiatives. The building will be named in honour of Chancellor Wilson.

Wilson, a McMaster graduate in economics, said he is investing in the liberal arts because he believes in the vision for liberal arts set out by McMaster President Peter George and the Faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences.

"My overriding interest is the next generation of leaders, and Peter and I are united in the belief that elevating the status of the liberal arts is important to their development," said Wilson. "The contribution of education in the humanities and social sciences hasn't always been recognized in the business community. These disciplines are important in the development of the next generation of entrepreneurs, policy makers, innovators and politicians, who in turn, will make us competitive and compassionate on a global scale. I hope that this gift will inspire McMaster, other donors and future generations of scholars and students to make, each in his or her own way, a similar type of commitment."

Wilson added: "Recently there has been considerable importance placed on developing a workforce with technical skills. Leadership qualities such as creativity, adaptability and the ability to confront moral, ethical and human dilemmas in our personal and professional lives are also critical.  We need to engage the restless and ambitious imaginations of young people, and the humanities and social sciences, that is to say the liberal arts, can play an important role."

Wilson is the chairman of CAE Inc., and the chair of the board of directors for AllerGen NCE Inc. He has been the president and CEO of Redpath Industries; vice chairman of the Bank of Nova Scotia, chairman of Nortel and president, CEO and then chairman of BCE Inc. In 1994, he received the International Business Executive of the Year Award. Wilson is chairman of the federal government’s Competition Policy Review Panel and is a member of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada and has received six honorary degrees, including a Doctor of Laws from McMaster in 1995.

The Conference Board of Canada recently highlighted a number of employability skills: communications, teamwork, analytical ability, the management of information, knowledge of the world, its cultures and peoples, and this, said President George, is proof that the academic pendulum needs to swing back.

“The Information Age created a drive toward technical skills and that’s something we understood, endorsed and excelled at here at McMaster,” said George. “But the world equally needs people who are problem solvers at every level from the local to the global. With the foresight of benefactors like Red Wilson, we are creating a thoroughly engaging approach that will equip students with the diverse skills and critical thinking capabilities to make bold decisions in a complex world. Innovation doesn’t come in a neat little box. It needs dialogue, debate and disagreement to create the spark that leads to enlightenment and discovery. We want to get students to think critically and to question the status quo and in the end, we will all be better for it.”

McMaster’s liberal arts resurgence will be physically represented in a new building, designed with flexible space to encourage synergies, inquiry, brainstorming and problem solving among students, faculty and staff.

The building’s architectural design will focus on creating spaces for collaboration, environments that provide scholars, fellows and students with a sense of belonging.  Communal areas will reflect the way students live and learn. An open concept, glass encased first-floor lobby would allow for group work, team building, displays of art, dramatic productions and social networking in a wireless environment. The other floors will include smart classrooms, a laboratory for empirical research, seminar rooms, breakout rooms, purpose-built interviewing suites, graduate student offices and faculty offices.

Academic initiatives proposed for the new building include an expansion of the Wilson Centre for Canadian History and an established professorship, created in 2004 with a generous gift of $1-million from Wilson. Wilson is a co-founder of Historica, an initiative created to help Canadians understand the depth, breadth and impact of their national history.

Other proposed Centres include:

        • the Centre for Global Citizenship Experiences
  • a “Big Questions” Institute
  • the Centre for Cognitive Studies in the Liberal Arts
  • the Centre for Collaborations for Health.


McMaster University, a world-renowned, research-intensive university, fosters a culture of innovation, and a commitment to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. Based in Hamilton, the University, one of only four Canadian universities to be listed on the Top 100 universities in the world, has a student population of more than 23,000, and an alumni population of more than 125,000 in 125 countries.