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Jane and Bill Saywell

SFU officially named its new ASSC1 arts and social science complex Saywell Hall this month in recognition of former president Bill Saywell and wife Jane’s contributions to the university.

Hall named for past president

June 25, 2009

SFU recognized historian and former president Bill Saywell as a key part of the university’s history June 16 when it formally named its new arts and social sciences complex Saywell Hall after him and his wife Jane.

Saywell says he "lost it" when he first heard about plans to name the eco-friendly building at the northeast end of the Burnaby Mountain campus in his honour. "I literally couldn’t speak for some time. I sobbed."

At the dedication ceremony in the airy atrium of Saywell Hall, he had tears in his eyes again as he said: "Of all the awards and honours I have been given, none can match this."

Saywell Hall houses, among other things, the archaeology, criminology and psychology departments, First Nations studies and the SFU Centre for Forensic Studies.

SFU chancellor emeritus Joe Segal recalled how Saywell was central to developing SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus, which opened in 1989. "Up until that time, it was the ‘university on the hill’. Then it became the ‘university of the community.’

"Since Bill made this first move, SFU has grown into a truly urban campus. We have seen the opening of both the Wosk Centre for Dialogue and my favourite project, the Segal Graduate School of Business.

"And next year, the School for the Contemporary Arts will officially move into the new Woodward’s district in the downtown eastside. SFU is also becoming a key player in the development of Surrey, with its downtown, shopping mall-based campus."

As a historian, Saywell was one of Canada’s first academic students of modern China, at a time (the 1960s) when foreigners could not visit China. In 1970, Canada and China established diplomatic relations, and Saywell became the first "resident Sinologist" at Canada’s embassy in Beijing.

He later became SFU’s fifth and longest-serving president, serving two five-year terms from 1983–93, during which he oversaw a 40-per-cent expansion in the university’s size.

SFU gave Saywell an honorary degree for his contributions in 1997. He was awarded the Order of British Columbia in 1994 for promoting B.C. on an educational level and on an international scale, and the Order of Canada in 2000 for the academic, cultural and economic bridges he built between Canada and Asia.