Peter George: champion of the McMaster experience

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By: David Moore

opinion_peter3_april6Much has been written about Peter George’s 45-year career at McMaster that culminated in an unprecedented three terms as president and vice-chancellor. I am one of many who think of him first in terms of contributions he made to benefit of students.

He was Dean of Social Sciences when I came to McMaster and it was with his encouragement that a few of us came together to found the Social Sciences Society in 1988. He understood the potential for the MSSS and encouraged us to build an organization in our faculty that would serve students well as other faculties had done before us.  Ours continues its tradition of service to this day.

When his appointment as president was announced in late 1994, his very first media interview included an unequivocal commitment to build a new student centre. He called it “a moral responsibility of the University.”

Students had been paying capital fees since 1988. Those of us who had been project advocates for years had found our champion.

The path forward to build much needed, non-academic student space was fraught with challenges. Peter put his reputation on the line and led the external fundraising campaign seeking millions of dollars for what would eventually be the MUSC and the DBAC to build on the commitment students had already made with continuing contributions and mitigate additional student costs.

Governing is about making difficult decisions and the calls he had to make were not always popular. After a decision about the student centre’s location was made publicly before it was shared with student leaders, he stood before the SRA and took his lumps – for the better part of an hour. He understood how keenly the issues were felt and the importance of not letting a short-term disagreement derail long-term benefits to students. It was one of the defining moments that made the MUSC possible.

During his 15 years as president, Peter was a fixture at student and alumni events. He revelled in celebrating their achievements. He was not born an extrovert, but early in his career, he learned the art of mixing with varied audiences and put that ability to good use on campus and in wider areas for the benefit of our university.

McMaster has announced that the new Centre for Living and Learning will be named in Peter’s honour. By both sheer size and the scope of its mission, it is worthy to bear the name of one of McMaster’s most remarkable leaders.

After conferring an honorary doctorate on Peter last Friday, Chancellor Labarge remarked that until the next convocation in May he would be the lone member of the Class of 2017 – a man in a class by himself.

Those of us who have known Peter well for so many years knew how right she was a long time ago.

David Moore is a former president of both the MSSS and MAPS. He has been president of the MSU Alumni Association since 2001.

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