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Pursuing the relationship between technology, democracy and society

A $1.25 million gift from Kenneth Slater and his family will support Arts fellowships, along with McGill’s participation in a think tank on policy for emerging technologies

Four people standing and holding smart phones

As society wrestles with the impact of technology on democracy, privacy and many other related issues, alumnus Kenneth Slater, BA’76, says there has never been a more timely or compelling opportunity to support McGill. His $1.25 million gift to the Faculty of Arts proves the point as it will enable scholars and researchers to explore the risks and opportunities of rapid technological change and map out new approaches to governance and policy.

“Technology has tremendous utility but it can’t be viewed outside the context of humanity,” says Slater. “I’m keen to support the work which McGill is undertaking at the Faculty of Arts in this increasingly important area of study.”

$1 million of the gift will be allocated to an endowment establishing the Slater Family Fellowship in Technology and Human Nature. Starting in 2021, the fellowship will be awarded to a PhD student, entering or enrolled in the Faculty of Arts, who is pursuing research related to the philosophical assessment of technology and its implications for humans and society.

The Fellowship recipient will work closely with the recently announced Stephen Jarislowsky Chair of Technology and Human Nature (once the inaugural chairholder is selected). The new fellowship will complement the work of the Jarislowsky Chair and accelerate much-needed research to bridge the gap between technology and pressing ethical, social and political questions.

“I view this Fellowship as intellectual infrastructure,” says Slater. “It’s a lasting initiative which renews itself and will continue to be refreshed by new scholars with new ideas.”

A second facet of the gift will see $250,000 allocated to enable McGill faculty to participate in the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) fellowship program based in San Francisco. Drawing on the global reach and resources of the World Economic Forum (WEF), C4IR partners with governments, leading companies, civil society and experts from around the world to design and pilot innovative approaches to policy and governance related to emerging technologies.

This initiative dovetails with McGill’s active involvement with the WEF, notably as the only Canadian university to participate in the WEF Global University Leaders Forum (GULF). McGill Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier currently serves as GULF Chair and recently co-chaired a series of leadership dialogues regarding COVID-19 and its immediate and longer-term impact on the higher education sector.

“This generous gift is a tremendously important contribution to the Faculty of Arts as we expand our initiatives focusing on the responsible and beneficial development of technology in society,” said Antonia Maioni, Dean of the Faculty of Arts. “All of us at the Faculty are proud to recognize one of our accomplished alumni and are grateful for the Slater family’s commitment to McGill.”

Although he lives and works in the United States, Slater retains a strong connection to McGill, as well as fond memories of Montreal, especially autumn walks on Mont Royal and his search for an elusive bar (somewhere in the McGill Ghetto) where he heard that Pierre Trudeau used to hang out.

Today, Slater is recognized as an accomplished business leader in investment securities and the real estate industry. A committed volunteer and champion of higher education, he and his family have endowed chairs and lecture series at Boston University, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, and The Technion Institute in Israel. With such a steadfast commitment to philanthropy, he has a simple message for his fellow McGill graduates.

“I would encourage all alumni to get involved with the University and seek out any area of study or research that interests them,” says Slater. “I’m proud to be a McGill graduate. My McGill experience has helped me throughout my life. I’m appreciative of the opportunities I’ve been given and I’m happy to give back.”