April 16, 2018

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Open letter from ILR deans to administration on ILR-Human Ecology combination proposal

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The following letter was sent to President Martha Pollack and Provost Michael Kotlikoff yesterday.

Dear President Pollack and Provost Kotlikoff:

We are the living former deans of the ILR School, and we write to express our strong opposition to the suggestion to merge the ILR School and the College of Human Ecology presented in the Report from the Committee on Organizational Structures in the Social Sciences. We have the greatest respect for our colleagues in Human Ecology, but our experience as deans and faculty members of the ILR School persuades us that a merger would have grave consequences for the ILR School and would not advance the social sciences at Cornell. We are not alone in holding that view: a poll of ILR tenured faculty conducted two weeks ago reveals overwhelming opposition to a merger. Furthermore, ILR alumni also overwhelmingly oppose a merger, something we learned in our continuing interactions with those individuals.

The ILR School is widely recognized as achieving excellence in research, teaching, and outreach. The School has a focused and coherent mission–to advance the world of work. The School does so by addressing issues on work, employment, conflict resolution, and labor and employment policy. It is a multidisciplinary school with a unique state-sanctioned mission that is increasingly important in the nation and world.

The ILR School is organized into core departments: the Department of Labor Relations, History and Law; the Department of Human Resource Studies; the Department of Organizational Behavior; the Department of Labor Economics; and the Department of International and Comparative Labor. These departments do not align well with departments in the College of Human Ecology. For example, three of the departments in the College of Human Ecology are focused on sciences that are unrelated to work and employment. The three departments are Nutritional Sciences, Design and Environmental Analysis, and Fiber Science and Apparel Design. Does that departmental mismatch provide any basis for a fruitful merger? We and many others think not. It is especially strange that a proposal to merge the two colleges originates from a committee tasked with improving the social sciences at Cornell, given the heavy focus in the College of Human Ecology on sciences that have only a peripheral connection to the social sciences.

When the ILR faculty were polled regarding their views on the merger, the faculty were given the opportunity to add comments. Those comments are attached. We encourage you to read them as they reveal not only the basis for the faculty’s opposition to the merger, but the depth of commitment ILR faculty have for the ILR School and Cornell University.  You’ll also see that ILR faculty are not expressing a knee-jerk opposition to change. Rather, they are very open to steps that would meaningfully enhance the social sciences at Cornell, including deepening the already extensive collaboration that exists between ILR faculty and faculty in other parts of Cornell.

Our discussions with alumni also have impressed upon us, once again, the deep passion alumni feel toward the School and their concern for its future. This concern is not held by only one segment of the ILR alumni community. Our close connection to alumni reveal that their opposition to the merger is passionately expressed by those who work on all sides of employment relations – for labor, for management, as neutrals and government officials, and among those who work outside the field of industrial relations.

A number of good ideas have surfaced on how the social sciences at Cornell can be improved. The idea of an ILR-CHE merger is not one of them. And, talk about a merger has caused anxiety that already has damaged the prospect of improving the social sciences at Cornell. We urge you to put an end to discussion of the merger proposal.

Harry Katz, Dean, 2005-2014; Interim Provost, 2014-2015

Edward Lawler, Dean, 1997-2005

David Lipsky, Dean, 1988-1997

Robert McKersie, Dean, 1971-1979