William and Jane Saywell

Saywell Hall named for past president

June 16, 2009

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Historian Bill Saywell, former president of Simon Fraser University, has been recognized as a key part of SFU’s history.

The university formally named Saywell Hall—a new and eco-friendly building at the northeast end of the Burnaby Mountain campus—after him and his wife Jane.

Saywell said he “lost it” when he first heard of plans to name the building. “I literally couldn’t speak for some time. I sobbed.”

On June 16, at a 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, SFU’s archaeology, criminology and psychology departments, First Nations studies and the SFU Centre for Forensic Studies.

Joe Segal, chancellor emeritus of SFU, recalled how Saywell was key to developing SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus that 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.

“But what really characterizes the Saywell Years for me was that everybody liked and respected Bill and Jane. From the time that they arrived, in 1983, I noticed a distinct change in the esprit de corps on the part of faculty and students. They all of a sudden became proud to be part of SFU.”

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 has awarded the Order of British Columbia in 1994 for promoting BC on an educational level and on an international scale, and the Order of Canada in 2000 for the academic, cultural and economic bridges he has built between Canada and Asia.


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jimmy tham

I am extremely proud that former President Saywell has been given this invaluable recognition by SFU. As a former student during his leadership and having gone through various issues with Mr Saywell, he played an important role in enlarging my views prior to working life. He truly deserves this recognition.He has given me visions and opportunities to work at high levels and I truly appreciate his great work..well we disagreed on differential fees imposed during his tenure but having said that he is a great leader and a great listener too. - Jimmy Tham

Scott Yano

Pederson maybe, but the man resposible for one third across the board cuts to the Centre for the fine arts; an "educational" climate responsible for the early retirement of numerous stellar faculty and the resultant losses to attrition for a number of departments that that caused;"Discovery" "park" and the reputed questionable research and development being done there; "economic bridges he built between Canada and Asia" that included alleged connections with the conflict in East Timor and its subsequent oppression; the introduction of mandatory athletic fees and differential fees that have blossomed into a cash cow economy for our university; and the conversion of Arthur Erickson's concept into a giant b-lot parking lot.

I guess they named a building for WAC Bennettwhy not Saywell, too?

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