April 19, 2004

ILR Organizes Institute on Conflict Resolution

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Three people walk into a room — a union leader, a management representative and a mediator. This may sound like the beginning of a bad joke, but it is actually Irving Ives’ founding vision. Ives wanted graduates of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations to be everywhere in the labor world, on both sides of the bargaining table. With the success of the world-renowned Institute on Conflict Resolution, members of the ILR community are also in the middle of the table, working as neutrals to create new paths in dispute resolution.

The institute, based in the top floor of Ives Hall, was the brainchild of Theodore W. Kheel ’35, a labor attorney, and ICR director Prof. David Lipsky ’61. Previously cooperating with the Foundation for Prevention and Early Resolution of Conflict, of which Kheel is founder and director, the ICR is now strictly a Cornell-based endeavor.

ICR was established in August 1996. The intent of the institute, according to its mission statement, is “to educate practitioners, users, teachers, and students of the field of conflict resolution through the following endeavors: research; collection and dissemination of information; public and private assistance; graduate and undergraduate curriculum development; and training programs.”

“What’s different about the institute … is the use of various dispute resolution techniques in areas outside collective bargaining,” Lipsky said. The institute works on fact-finding research and third party negotiations in general employment. Lipsky made the distinction between labor (union-based) relations and employment (non-union) relations. In 1954, 35 percent of the work force was unionized, according to Lipsky. Now, between eight and 11 percent is organized into unions.

After an explosion of litigation in the 1960s and 1970s, Lipsky said, legal costs rose and courts became busier than ever. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) “has been a revolution,” Lipsky said, in resolving cases without going to court. Decisions are made either through mediation, in which a settlement is agreed upon by all parties, or through arbitration, in which the neutral hears both sides and then makes a final, binding decision.

Prof. Ronald Seeber, executive director of ICR, said that the institute has “a broad interest … in trying to create efficient and fair systems of dispute resolution.” He explained that this is imperative because “conflict is a natural phenomenon in the workplace.”

The institute’s first major study, conducted in 1996 and 1997, looked at ADR in Fortune 1,000 companies. Lipsky and Seeber published a follow-up report and several articles that are used as models in the field. According to the institute’s 2003 annual report, studies in the late 1990s found that many corporations “have moved beyond the adoption of ADR policies and practices and have advanced to the stage of implementing genuine systems of conflict management.” As a result of this discovery, the institute focuses on looking at various systems and why and how they are used.

In 1997, the Hewlett Foundation awarded a $300,000 grant to ICR and MIT’s Institute for Work and Employment Research to establish a consortium of mediation organizations. The Alliance for Education in Dispute Resolution, under the leadership of ICR, was started in 1999 to train and provide dispute mediators across the country. Rocco Scanza joined the Alliance as executive director and also became deputy director of ICR. After nearly four years of running training programs with 21 institutions, creating a roster of 300 mediators, Cornell will be stepping back from the alliance this year to focus on the institute’s research and outreach.

One of the institute’s biggest projects began in Oct. 2000 when the U.S. Department of Labor awarded ICR a $1.1 million research grant to create a pilot mediation program for the department’s 190 statutes. The georgia state solicitor of labor suggested cases for mediation and members of the alliance were assigned to facilitate the cases. Over three years, more than 85 percent of the cases were settled through mediation rather than litigation.

ICR also helped the U.S. Department of the Interior develop an ADR system for its 73,000 employees in 2002-03. The program was designed and ready for execution when leadership of the department changed and nation-wide financial restraints temporarily halted the project.

More recently, the institute worked on implementing “Resolve,” the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s program for dispute resolution, launched in June 2003. Other ICR projects include designing systems for the New York State Court System’s 17,000 employees and for other federal agencies.

Lipsky noted the involvement of the ILR Extension Program in the institute’s mass training and outreach initiatives. Reaching more than 75,000 people annually, the six extension locations offer a variety of programs that are “devoted to studying workplace and employment issues,” Lipsky said.

ICR is looking to develop a curriculum for undergraduate and graduate students that focuses more specifically on conflict resolution, including mediation and other arbitration.

“This will be the first program of its kind in the U.S.,” Scanza said. Over the past eight years, “the Institute on Conflict Resolution has established a reputation as one of the leading academic centers in the dispute resolution field,” according to the director’s report. More than $4 million in grants, gifts and contracts have been awarded to the institute since it opened.

Archived article by Melissa Korn
Sun Senior Writer