McMaster community celebrates $10 million gift to liberal arts

October 29, 2007

    Lynton (Red) Wilson smiles as the audience gives him a standing ovation in recognition of his $10-million gift to the liberal arts. Below, President Peter George and Wilson admire an 1875 map of the County of Halton given to Wilson as a token of appreciation for his gift. Photos by Susan Bubak.
Joyful applause filled Convocation Hall earlier today as the McMaster community celebrated the news of a $10 million gift to liberal arts from Chancellor Lynton (Red) Wilson.

Wilson received a standing ovation from students, faculty, staff and guests when President Peter George announced the extraordinary gift.

The gift 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 President George and the Faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Wilson said the importance of 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," said Wilson. "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."

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.

The eminent business leader is co-founder of Historica, an initiative created to help Canadians understand the depth, breadth and impact of their national history.

President George said the Information Age created a drive toward technical skills that was understood, endorsed and perfected at McMaster.

"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 lead 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."

Humanities Dean Suzanne Crosta and Social Sciences Dean Susan Elliott each thanked Wilson for his generosity and lauded his leadership and vision.

"The benefits of your gift include the chance to address new questions and possibilities requiring dialogue across disciplines, specializations and communities," said Crosta. "Our ability to solve larger and increasingly daunting problems will depend on our capacity to seize opportunity and capitalize on new links between branches of learning. Your gift will help us further opportunities for individual scholars to flourish in new collaborative research environments. It will support our disciplines and make space for their extensions into exciting new domains -- music cognition, communications and multimedia, cognitive science of language, cultural and interdisciplinary studies: all inter-related disciplines which provide us with a more integrated and enriched understanding of human kind."

Dean Elliott said Wilson's gift will spur on the development of new centres of excellence that build on current strengths while bringing new facets to research and teaching. Some of the proposed initiatives include a "Big Questions" Institute and a Centre for Cognitive Studies in the Liberal Arts.

"We know we are doing great things and your belief in us inspires us to do even more -- your investment in us makes that all the more possible," Elliott told the audience that included Wilson's wife Brenda. "We are about to enter our prime in liberal arts at McMaster and it is an unrivalled privilege to be a part of such a special time."

Following the announcement, guests at a celebratory lunch to honour Chancellor Wilson heard McMaster graduate Danielle Robinson speak about the impact of the liberal arts on her decision to return to pursue a PhD in Canadian History.