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Chancellor Emeritus L.R. “Red” Wilson ’62 invests $50 million to establish the Wilson College of Leadership and Civic Engagement.

Largest gift to the liberal arts in Canada will create unique leadership college at McMaster

Chancellor Emeritus L.R. “Red” Wilson ’62 invests $50 million to establish the Wilson College of Leadership and Civic Engagement.

Sep 16, 2022

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McMaster University is launching Canada’s most comprehensive leadership college with a $50-million gift from Chancellor Emeritus Lynton “Red” Wilson and the Wilson Foundation. Wilson’s support will establish the Wilson College of Leadership and Civic Engagement, with the goal to develop outstanding young leaders who understand the myriad challenges facing our world and who will be committed to strengthening our societies. “This is an extraordinary gift from an extraordinary leader and a great Canadian who wants the best for our students and our country,” said McMaster President David Farrar.

“This gift supports McMaster’s vision of developing students into leaders who are ready to tackle Canada’s most complex issues. We are grateful for this vote of confidence in McMaster and our ability to develop the kind of leaders Canada and the world needs.”

Wilson, who spent 50 years in public service and private industry, said his interest in supporting students and McMaster’s Wilson College stems from his belief that Canada needs leaders now more than ever. “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,” said Wilson, 82, who graduated from McMaster in 1962 with an economics degree.

“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."

“From the moment they enrol, students from various areas of study will be exposed to new ideas and innovative thinking, all through a liberal arts lens. They can learn to anticipate and address complex problems. With guidance and encouragement, I’m confident these young people will excel.”

McMaster’s Wilson College programming will feature a unique curriculum nested in the faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences and crossing multiple fields of study. Every student will take part in experiential learning opportunities, including internships and other placements, where they will work with public and private sector leaders. It will be the only program in Canada that focuses exclusively on leadership and civic engagement and will be home to Canada’s only Honours Bachelor of Arts degree and minor in Leadership and Civic Studies.

“One of the exciting components is that the leadership and civic studies minor will be available to students across campus, which is a terrific opportunity to develop their leadership skills,” said McMaster Provost Susan Tighe. First-year students enrolled in Wilson College will benefit from a unique living and learning experience with dedicated on-campus residence space that supports a sense of community and amplifies Wilson College activities. The first cohort of students is projected to begin their studies in the fall of 2024.

“This will be the greatest masterclass in leadership that any student could hope to experience,” said Simranjeet Singh, McMaster Students Union president, who graduated earlier this year from the biomedical discovery and commercialization program. It’s going to attract even more incredible students to Mac and, most importantly, it’s going to equip more grads to lead and change the world for the better.”

Wilson’s $50-million investment also creates the Wilson Chair in Leadership and Civic Studies, who will lead a team of researchers and visiting fellows from the public and private sectors. Other Wilson College activities will include active-learning and research collaborations, such as policy hackathons, civic engagement opportunities through internships and placements in diverse community-focused organizations, and the Wilson Commentaries Annual Public Lecture Series. The college is the latest in a series of investments Wilson has made in McMaster, including a $5-million gift in 2020 that launched McMaster’s Future of Canada Project. The project’s goal is to better understand the issues and opportunities facing Canada, and brings together Canadian leaders like Samantha Nutt, who chairs the advisory council.

“This gift is important to Canada because leadership takes time. It's not something that happens overnight,” said Nutt, a two-time McMaster graduate. “It requires consistent investment, and it means identifying young people and ensuring that they have those opportunities to lead, to grow, and to learn.

"This will allow so many more generations of students, students who were like me many decades ago, who want to engage with the world to really think through their role within it and what it will take to promote meaningful change.”

The college builds on Wilson’s earlier investments that created the Wilson Leaders program and a new liberal arts building, home to the faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences, known as L.R. Wilson Hall.  The details of the college and academic programs will now be developed by  the faculties and will follow the usual university approvals processes, including Senate. “We know that civic engagement is a fundamental part of a healthy democratic society, and we thank Red Wilson for his tremendous investment and support for the program we will be developing,” said Pamela Swett, dean of Humanities. "The opportunities this investment will create for McMaster students, researchers and our country will be unmatched." Jeremiah Hurley, dean of Social Sciences, said: “Students want to shape the future. Developing the perspective and experiences you need to become a leader takes focus. Thanks to this investment, McMaster students will have a unique opportunity to help shape a more inclusive and resilient civic society.”

About Chancellor Emeritus L.R. “Red” Wilson

L.R. “Red” Wilson, an accomplished Canadian business and public service leader and philanthropist, is an Officer of the Order of Canada and recipient of the Vanier Medal for public service. He has been an extraordinary champion of McMaster University for six decades, serving as Chancellor from 2007 to 2013, as a member of the Board of Governors from 1983 to 1991 and as chair of the Changing Tomorrow Today fundraising campaign from 1999 to 2001. Wilson, ’62, attended McMaster on a four-year academic scholarship and was a varsity athlete. He has a master’s degree from Cornell University and is the recipient of honorary degrees from seven Canadian universities, including McMaster in 1995. He co-founded the Historica Foundation of Canada and is the former chair and a member of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service. Wilson’s philanthropy at McMaster has focused on investing in the liberal arts, leadership and student success. L. R. Wilson Hall is named in recognition of his many contributions. His generosity has supported the Future of Canada Project, the Wilson Leaders program, the Wilson Institute for Canadian History, the L.R. Wilson Chair in Canadian History, the Socrates Project, the L.R. Wilson/Bell Canada Enterprises Chair in Data Communications, the athletic and recreation centre and Adopt-an-Athlete, the Centre for Foresight & Change Leadership and bursaries.

About the Wilson Foundation

 The Wilson Foundation concentrates on supporting education, history, heritage and public service at organizations across Canada.