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$25 million gift to College of Business from Holly and David Wilson
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$25 million gift to College of Business from Holly and David Wilson

The University of Northern Iowa announced a $25 million gift to its College of Business, the largest single gift in the university’s history.

Wilson, a 1970 UNI alum, donated to establish the Wilson Endowment for Integrity and Excellence to “advance business ethics education and ensure graduates continue to thrive and lead in a rapidly changing business landscape.”

With this comes the advent of the brand-new Wilson Ethics Fellow position. Robert Earle currently holds this position; an assistant professor of instruction in the Philosophy and World Religions Department at the University of Northern Iowa.

“This donation was made specifically to promote ethics education, both in the College of Business and generally across campus,” Earle said. “Some of our goals are to increase the number of students who take an ethics course while they are here and increase the number of students who sign on for the ethics minor. Also, we want to increase ethics programming at UNI.”

This new position spells out good news for students who may have previously struggled to find seats in rarely offered ethics courses.

“This donation and the addition of the ethics fellows will allow us to increase the frequency with which we offer the core ethics course and we will be able to increase programming. The thing our department is most excited about is that we will be able to offer applied ethics courses more regularly. This will allow the other departments across campus to incorporate ethics into their programs. When classes are only offered every two years, it’s easy to forget it exists.” said Earle.

But it’s not just the College of Business getting revamped ethics programming according to Leslie Wilson, Dean of the Wilson College of Business.

Eventually, there will be two ethics fellows. They will help us envision what ethics education on the UNI campus looks like, they will teach ethics courses that are targeted to professionals, whether that be business professionals, communication professionals, nurses who are professionals, or teachers who are professionals. So as we look at ethics education, how do we elevate that across campus? The ethics fellows will be working with our Wilson Ethics Chair to really come up with strategies and courses that help us do that.”

The addition of these new ethics chairs and the expansion of ethics education is something that David Wilson had envisioned for campus for a while.

“David Wilson wanted to see ethics education grow across the campus. Every professional today is going to be in a position where they are making decisions that have ethical dimensions to them. Having an ethics class helps to really elevate your sensitivity towards the ethical dimensions of your professional life and can only help you in your career,” said Dean Wilson.

She continued, “We live in a very complex world, students, whether students realize it or not, are going to be in situations where they will have ethical dilemmas that they will have to work through…I believe that elevating ethics across campus and providing more courses where students can gain the sensitivities necessary and the critical decision-making skills that they are going to have to put into practice will help them be better professionals, no matter the field that they decide to go into.”

“This gift to UNI is made in the hope that this money will transform the university, transform the College of Business,” Wilson said in a prepared statement. “I’m hoping this gift will ensure students will learn to do things the right way.”

His contribution establishes two funds: the Wilson Endowment for Integrity and Excellence and the Wilson Scholars Fund.

The Wilson Endowment for Integrity and Excellence will advance business ethics education and ensure graduates continue to lead in a rapidly changing business landscape, according to a news release. The three goals of the endowment are to elevate ethics and integrity as part of the business college’s brand, expand business ethics education for business and non-business students, and foster innovation by providing direct funding and opportunity for innovation.

The Wilson Scholars Fund provides renewable scholarships for students from Tama County, which includes Wilson’s hometown of Traer. The first Wilson Scholar will be awarded in the 2024-2025 academic year with the intent that eventually four Wilson Scholars will be funded annually.

Leslie Wilson, dean of UNI’s College of Business, said the gift represents a new chapter for the college.

“Current and future business leaders must be equipped to confront the complexities of a domestic and global economy. They need the critical thinking skills that allow them to live their values and lead with integrity,” Leslie Wilson said in a prepared statement. “The David W. Wilson College of Business will elevate ethics and integrity as a core component of who we are: through our mission, our curriculum, and our brand.”

According to the release, Wilson worked with the UNI Foundation to structure his contribution as a challenge gift in the hopes of spurring additional support for the university’s “Our Tomorrow” campaign. More than 27,000 people have contributed to the university’s capital campaign, which launched in October 2022.

Wilson made his first gift of $1 million to UNI’s business college in 1999, which established the David W. Wilson Chair of Business Ethics. The faculty position educates students about ethics and serves as a resource for the community.

At UNI, Wilson studied religion and philosophy with a minor in business and gained his first experience working with cars as a mechanic and salesman at a local dealership. He and his young family moved to Arizona after graduation, where he started working as a car salesman. Within five years, he would own a 25% stake in the business and leverage the partnership to launch his dealerships throughout the southwest United States and parts of Mexico, according to a biography of Wilson shared in the news release.

Wilson has now worked in the automotive industry for over 50 years. As the owner and CEO of Wilson Automotive, he oversees 18 automobile dealerships that employ over 2,500 people. Today, Wilson and his family reside in Nevada.

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