‘Join ILR and see the world.’ At least, that’s the sales pitch and priority for Harry Katz, the newly-installed dean of Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. On July 1, Katz took office as ILR’s tenth dean, and last week, he sat down with The Sun to tell us about the school’s future.
The Sun: How has the adjustment been to your new position? Dean Katz: “Well, this office is only about five times the size of my last office. But other than that, the rhythm of the day is not that different.”
The Sun: Let’s start out with the basics: What do you hope to accomplish as dean?
Katz: “I want to keep ILR as the preeminent institution in the world that’s addressing workplace issues that are really global. When you go abroad, we’re known more than even in New York State. We have 50 resident professors; by size alone we dominate the field and I want to continue to dominate. That’s a formidable task.”
The Sun: Still, at 50 resident professors and 800 undergraduates, ILR is one of Cornell’s smallest colleges. Why, do you think, aren’t there more institutions, and larger institutions, doing what ILR does?
Katz: “It’s a bit odd to have a school with one focus like we do. We serve the public interest in the economic world by dealing with issues on productivity and policy. We want to focus ever more on disability. ILR works on conflict resolution to develop mediation and help resolve workplace issues and in that way, we can broaden it so it addresses even more global issues.”
The Sun: So how are you going to keep ILR on top?
Katz: “Our central mission has to be undergraduate education. We have a tendency to not adequately focus on undergraduates, and I want to launch efforts for internship opportunities overseas because students now are going to enter a workplace that’s much more international.”
The Sun: How are your initiatives different from those of your predecessor, Dean Lawler?
Katz: “Well, I’ll give you an example: we used to have an associate dean of extension; now we have Bruyere, the associate dean of outreach. I’m launching a major restructuring of the extension division because it is not sufficiently focused on global initiatives.
“Another thing is that we have the capital campaign going on across the University. Imposing this initiative forces us to articulate where we’re going and what we’re going to do. In this campaign, the pitches are not different; they just build on previous ones.
“ILR has the largest percentage of minority students at all of Cornell’s colleges. Minority students take less advantage of abroad opportunities because of financial restraints. I’m working to send more minority ILR students abroad.
“We’ll also be dealing more with programmatic content issues rather than the older structure of labor and management. We want to extend the focus more on new workplace issues, like disability.”
The Sun: How are these initiatives different from former President Lehman’s first choice for the position of Dean of the ILR school, Jan Svejnar ’74?
Katz: “I haven’t felt at any moment handicapped by all the controversy around the dean search. People like to chat about it. It’s not like people aren’t going to take me seriously because I wasn’t President Lehman’s first pick. We stayed on friendly terms.”
The Sun: Considering that you weren’t Lehman’s first pick, what was your reaction to the former president’s departure?
Katz: “I honestly don’t know what the Board had in mind. My guess: the ILR Dean search had a role. I have run into trustees I didn’t know before and they knew about the dean search. I don’t know what to think. I would bet that the ILR controversy had some role. I wish we were a major enough issue to be an issue for the Board of Trustees. I guess I wish we mattered a lot more than we do.
“I have found that Lehman’s resignation surpassed/replaced the focus. The focus on me got diminished.
“I was getting tired of talking about it, but once you take office you start doing stuff and people stop talking about it as much.”
The Sun: Were you surprised you didn’t get the bid initially?
Katz: “I thought I had a very good chance of being first. I wasn’t profoundly depressed. It wasn’t an issue of moving my family – we were already here. And, I lead a happy life as a chaired professor. It did require, ‘Well, gee, if I’m not gonna be dean what am I going to do with my research time?’
“I feel very committed to the school, the field, the University. I have talents that can be used as dean.
“I’m not a researcher who drools on his shoes when he’s in public situations. I was a professor for 28 years, and never an administrator.”
The Sun: Other than the role the dean search may have played, what were your thoughts when you heard about Lehman’s resignation?
Katz: “I was stunned the day I heard. I sort of sensed there were issues in his administration. I didn’t feel animosity toward him; I was surprised. I was more surprised that he resigned than that he picked Svejnar. I can’t think of a president who didn’t do important things without pissing people off, but I got along with Jeff. Jeff reminded me that he wasn’t first pick for dean of the University of Michigan Law School.”
The Sun: What are you looking for in the next president?
Katz: “A good manager – someone who can manage a complex organization. In the real world it’s real hard to tell. It’s hard to identify real managers. Clearly, they have to play key roles, [and] know enough about academics. It’s a pretty rare skill set.”
Archived article by Erica Fink
Sun News Editor