Seventy-five years ago this November, 118 students attended the ILR School’s inaugural classes in borrowed space in Warren Hall on the Ag Quad. The curriculum had been cobbled together just weeks before by the school’s first faculty members, Maurice Neufeld and Jean McKelvey.
The upstart school grew quickly. Today, more than 13,000 alumni uphold a legacy of research, teaching and outreach informing policy and practice for workers, managers, industries and the public.
“ILR’s distinctive focus on the world of work is vital to Cornell’s mission as a land-grant university,” President Martha E. Pollack said. “Its teaching, research and outreach contribute directly or indirectly to a better life for countless people across the U.S. and beyond.”
Areas where ILR expertise is being applied today include:
- best practices for remote work;
- the safe reopening of workplaces during COVID-19;
- equitable wages for workers from Tompkins County to southeast Asia;
- creativity in the workplace;
- the role of consent in our everyday lives;
- climate jobs programs;
- pay and opportunity gaps for minorities, women and people with disabilities; and
- best practices of workplace dispute resolution.
ILR has expanded its footprint in recent years to include a New York City headquarters; the Ithaca and Buffalo Co-Labs, which allow students and faculty to study local community issues; and undergraduate programs in India and Vietnam. ILR faculty collaborate on research with colleagues across the Ithaca campus, and at Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech.
“The ILR School has had an immense impact on New York state, the nation and the world,” said Alexander Colvin, Ph.D. ’99, ILR’s Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean. “In the next 75 years, we will continue shaping work, labor and employment in ways that lead to more equitable, prosperous and sustainable outcomes, with greater voice at work.
“Our 75th anniversary is not just a commemoration of our rich history, rooted in efforts to build a better society in the wake of the ravages of the Great Depression and World War II, but an opportunity to celebrate our faculty, alumni, students, outreach program participants and our many, many partnerships with government, unions, for-profit and nonprofit organizations,” said Colvin, also the Martin F. Scheinman ’75, M.S. ’76 Professor of Conflict Resolution.
“The anniversary is also the beginning of our next 75 years, as we help society navigate globalization, waves of new technology, the breakdown of traditional careers, the need for greater racial justice, a changing, more diverse workforce, and many other issues central to the future of work,” he said.
The New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations was signed into existence by the New York State Legislature in 1944, seven years after Irving Ives began campaigning for an educational institution that would be the first of its kind anywhere in the world.
In 1945, as World War II was ending and massive strikes began rippling across the nation, ILR was created to help resolve labor-management conflict through educating both business and labor leaders. The school’s commitment to shaping the future of the rapidly transforming, technology-driven global workplace flows from that same mission that defined it 75 years ago.
The school is planning anniversary events, most of them virtual. Visit the ILR School website to learn more about them and to see a timeline of ILR’s history, along with a collection of stories about the ILR community.
Mary Catt is the ILR School’s communications director.