Responsiveness and Constancy
The Story of ILR Extension
Advancing the World of Work Since 1946
For ILR Extension, the assignment is clear: disseminate information to labor and management in order to improve relations between the parties and workplace conditions. The legalistic version of that charge, written into the school's founding legislation, has guided Extension's activities since the first office beyond the Ithaca campus opened in Buffalo in 1946. The "how's" and "what's" have evolved over time, but the spirit and intent underlying Extension's primary task have retained their original force. Today, ILR Extension remains fully committed to advancing the world of work.
A Growing Demand From Labor and Unions
Responsiveness to contemporary issues rippling through the workplace is a hallmark of Extension. In the early days, Extension faculty gave lectures to labor leaders, union members, managers, supervisors, and the public on topics of concern to society. Those wide-ranging speeches were soon supplanted by training sessions on pragmatic matters, such as contract negotiations and grievance handling. Eventually, organizations started to request specific courses, which were designed to suit the client's needs and generally took on an advocacy orientation. Demand for Extension's services quickly grew, and additional offices opened in Albany, New York City, Rochester, and Long Island. Along the way, faculty honed their expertise in both labor relations and adult education.
The 1960s: Diversification
Extension began diversifying during the 1960s even though programming remained largely focused on the labor movement. Summer institutes, joint labor-management conferences, and experiments with more rigorous classes for union leaders who lacked traditional academic credentials commanded the faculty's attention. By the 1970s, Extension was offering off-campus, for-credit courses that enabled union students to earn a college degree at affiliated institutions. When public sector workers in New York City, and later New York State, were granted the right to join unions, Extension jumped at the opportunity to train a new leadership cohort in collective bargaining and contract administration. The division also launched several initiatives, including leadership training for organizations representing minority groups, a union studies program for women, and an urban affairs program that ran demonstration projects focused on critical social issues in reaction to the era's ongoing social and political ferment.
Supervisors and Managers Now Look to ILR Extension
As other changes wafted through the workplace, Extension adapted and also led the way. Programs for supervisors and managers were added to the roster alongside offerings for union members and officers. Increasing professionalization among human resources practitioners and union leaders prompted faculty to develop more sophisticated training and curricula that stressed issues, analysis, and strategies rather than basic skill development. Train-the-trainer courses were added in an effort to enhance Extension's ability to reach more labor and management clients.
The 1990s: Meeting the Complex Needs of a Changing Workforce
Globalization, competition, and changing workforce demographics during the 1990s pushed Extension to broaden its expertise and develop still more programs and services for the contemporary workplace. Employee involvement, union revitalization, labor-management cooperation, conflict resolution, racial and gender diversity, health and safety, alcohol and substance abuse, regulatory compliance, and integrating persons with disabilities into the workforce are examples of the topics covered in workshops, seminars, and customized classes available through Extension. Many faculty work directly with clients as consultants on organizational change, dispute resolution systems, strategic planning, workforce development, and leadership and management skills. Applied research by Extension faculty on organizational structure, practices, and policies increasingly informs the training, education, and consulting work of Extension. More than 20,000 working adults are served by Extension every year.
Striving for Balance, Committed to Excellence
In all its endeavors, ILR Extension strives for balance between management and labor, teaching and practice, responsiveness and constancy. Extension has also learned to balance its obligations to New York State constituencies with requests for its expertise from a growing national and international client base. Throughout, Extension's commitment to excellence and to service has never wavered.
Source: Lois Gray, "Parts of the Whole: The Extension Division," in The ILR School at Fifty: Voices of the Faculty, Alumni and Friends. Cornell University, 1996. Compiled by Robert B. McKersie, J. Gormly Miller, Robert L. Aronson, Robert R. Julian and edited by Elaine Gruenfeld Goldberg.