Business dean and 9/11 figure to receive honorary degrees

The founding dean of York’s business school and a retired Canadian Forces officer who played a key role after the 9/11 terrorist attacks will receive honorary degrees at today’s Winter Convocation ceremonies for graduate students.

Former dean James Gillies, a University Professor Emeritus at York, will be honoured at the 10am ceremony for PhD students and for master’s students of the Schulich School of Business. Lt.-Gen. (ret.) George Macdonald, now a partner with CFN Consultants, will receive his degree at the 3pm ceremony for other master’s degree students. Both events will be held in the Robert E. McEwen Auditorium of the Seymour Schulich Building.

James Gillies

In 1965, Gillies was an assistant dean in the School of Business at the University of California at Los Angeles when he met with Murray Ross, president of fledgling York University. Ross persuaded him to come home to Canada to start a business school at York. Gillies, who intended to stay a year, is here still. 

Gillies served seven years as dean of what was then the Faculty of Administrative Studies (now the Schulich School of Business) and also served as a York vice-president. Since 1980, he has taught at Schulich, sharing his expertise on corporate governance, public policy, industrial strategy and business-government relations. He has also written widely on business leadership.

In his own education, Gillies earned degrees in economics from the University of Western Ontario (BA ’46), Brown University (MA ’49) and University of Indiana (PhD ’52). He received an honorary degree in 1982 from Simon Fraser University, and in 1995, York bestowed on him the title of University Professor. In 1996, he was inducted as a Member of the Order of Canada.

George Macdonald

On Sept. 11, 2001, Macdonald was acting chief of defence staff while his boss and the minister of defence were on a trip to Europe. Only six days into his new job as vice-chief of staff, Macdonald supervised Canada’s response to the terrorist attacks in the United States, when all flights in North America were grounded. He has described the experience as an “interesting introduction” to his new responsibilities.

Originally a fighter pilot, Macdonald held a wide variety of posts in the Canadian Forces over 38 years, including service with NATO forces in Germany and Norway. He was deputy commander-in-chief of NORAD – the North American Aerospace Defence Command – before he became vice-chief of staff in 2001, with responsibility for strategic planning. An expert on international security issues and Canada-US relations, he has also served in the Foreign and Defence Policy Secretariat in the Privy Council Office. He is a graduate of the University of Calgary and the National Defence College. In 2005, he joined CFN Consultants, an Ottawa-based firm specializing in relations with the Canadian government, NATO and the United Nations.

At today’s ceremonies, some 250 degrees will be conferred. An announcement of the honorary degree recipients was originally to have been made at the recently cancelled Jan. 26 meeting of Senate.