Businessman donates $100 million to U of C

By Chris Adams

The University of Calgary received two unprecedented donations Tuesday as a local investor and the Alberta government gave a total of $200 million to the faculty of medicine.

U of C president Elizabeth Cannon announced Geoffrey Cumming’s $100 million donation to a crowded room at the U of C’s Foothills Campus. The faculty of medicine — now called the Cumming School of Medicine — is the first medical school in Western Canada named after a donor.

Premier Dave Hancock announced a matching $100 million donation to the Cumming School of Medicine following the donor’s speech.

Alison Redford brokered the donation while she was still premier. She met with Cumming after he came to the U of C with the intention to make the donation.

“It’s always a difficult process because it’s about the allocation of scarce resources. When an opportunity comes up, you have to be prepared to accept that opportunity,” Hancock said. “This is a unique gift. It should be handled uniquely.”

Cumming’s gift is one of the largest private donations ever made to a Canadian university, second only to former Laidlaw CEO Michael deGroote’s $105 million donation to McMaster University in 2003. Yet, it dwarfs the $25 million donations that renamed the faculties of engineering and education in 2005 and 2013.

The money will mainly fund brain and mental health research, along with research into infections, inflammation and chronic disease. Hancock and Cannon said the research will lead to medical advances around the world.

“Those are two strengths of the Cumming School of Medicine, so we’re building on those strengths and continue to make huge impacts for society,” Cannon said.

Cumming, who will sit on the school’s management committee, credits his donation to what he saw as a lack of stable long-term funding for medical research. He hopes the donation will attract top research talent to the school over the next two decades.

“Hopefully we’re able to make significant medical advances. This is really a long-term project,” Cumming said.

Cumming is the managing director of international investment firm Zeus Capital. He has investments in oil, health care, real estate and hotels and is a citizen of Canada and New Zealand — a country he moved to at the age of 40 to start an investment firm called Emerald Capital.

While saying government should be “lean” and not “confiscatory,” Cumming discussed the embedded inequalities in Canada’s economic system, calling the topic controversial.

“Our economic system is very efficient and effective, but it can and does lead to skewed distributions of income,” Cumming said. “We in Canada and Alberta have a good and appropriate tax system to pay for public goods. But still, there are major differences in income distribution of an after-tax basis.”

Cumming’s speech concluded with words of caution as he urged the U of C to “kindly use these financial resources frugally, efficiently and wisely in the years ahead.”

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