Wilson College marks one year of milestones with appointment of inaugural academic director

A headshot of Donald Abelson

Donald Abelson has been appointed the inaugural academic director of the Wilson College of Leadership and Civic Engagement

A year after the announcement of its creation, Wilson College of Leadership and Civic Engagement has achieved several significant milestones, including the hiring of its inaugural academic director, Donald Abelson. 

Abelson, who most recently served as the founding director of the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University, began his term as academic director on October 1, 2023. Prior to his appointment at St. Francis Xavier, he was the director of the Centre for American Studies and chair of the Political Science department at Western University. He holds an MA and PhD in political studies from Queen’s University, as well as an MA in journalism from Western. 

As Wilson College’s academic director, Abelson will be responsible for the operations and management of the College, including the academic programs, research and scholarly activities, and the affiliated faculty, Wilson fellows, and staff. As well, he will join the Faculty of Social Sciences as a professor in the Department of Political Science. 

“I am honored to be appointed as the Inaugural Academic Director of Wilson College, and very much look forward to joining the McMaster community,” says Abelson.

“I have no doubt Wilson College will transform the lives of generations of students who will go on to help shape the future of Canada.” 

The past year has seen several other significant milestones in Wilson College’s development, including: 

  • The first meeting of the College’s external advisory committee on September 26, 2023. Composed of a group of diverse leaders from a variety of sectors, the EAC will meet three times per year, and will advise the academic director and internal governing board on external programming, opportunities to raise the profile of the College, and opportunities or challenges arising from changing economic, social, political and cultural conditions.
  • The selection of RDH Architects, who will work in partnership with Shoalts and Zabak Architects to design a new building to house Wilson College, which will include a residence for students as well as learning and collaborative spaces.
  • The creation of a minor in Leadership and Civic Studies, open to all students on campus. 
  • The development of a proposal for the province’s Institutional Quality Assurance Process to approve the College’s Bachelor of Arts degree, a joint BA in Leadership and Civic Studies and a program in either Humanities or Social Sciences.
  • The approval of the College’s first Graduate Seminar, titled “Leaders as thinkers: What does good leadership look like?” launching in Winter 2024.

The College is now in the process of recruiting the endowed Wilson Chair in Leadership and Civic Studies, an assistant or associate professor and an assistant director of planning and administration. 

Supported by a $50 million gift from former McMaster Chancellor L.R. “Red” Wilson, Wilson College is a unique teaching, learning and research environment focused on fostering strong, diverse and resilient civic leaders who are able to anticipate and address social, economic, political and environmental challenges, and work towards creating a more ethical, inclusive and sustainable civic culture.  

“We have many dedicated, hopeful leaders, but they are up against threats that tear at the fabric of civilization, allowing cynicism, inertia and negativity to gather momentum,” Wilson said at the time of the gift announcement. “There is no model or formula for developing effective leaders, but there is an opportunity to build on the university’s innovation culture, its strong leadership team and faculty, and its track record of pioneering new approaches.” 

The College, which is a partnership between the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Humanities, will also host a diverse, interdisciplinary team of faculty researchers and visiting fellows who will create new scholarship in collaboration with Wilson College students and others, sharing innovations with the larger public through community outreach programming.  

The research activities of the College will be led by the endowed Wilson Chair in Leadership and Civic Studies. 

Finally, the College will also develop opportunities to lead the public conversation on key issues of concern and expand its impact on Canadian and international civic and academic life, informed by the external director and the external advisory council.   

“A year ago, Red’s extraordinary gift set in motion an incredible amount of activity aimed at making our shared vision of educating the next generation of civic leaders a reality,” says McMaster President, David Farrar. “It’s exciting to see Wilson College taking shape in this way, and I look forward to its continued development and future success.” 

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