Culture of Engagement

Avgar continues his research and teaching at alma mater
Wednesday, September 28, 2016

“Conflict is an inherent part of organizational life.”

So states ILR Associate Professor Ariel Avgar Ph.D. ’08, a specialist in employment relations in the health care industry, organizational conflict management and alternative dispute resolution practices.  

For Avgar, conflict is just a fact of life. Rather than designing work in a way that minimizes conflict, Avgar focuses on developing practices and systems that proactively deal with conflict by elevating and promoting positive forms of conflict and resolving detrimental forms of conflict.  

“We often assume conflict is bad – we usually ignore its presence or try to make it go away – but, conflict can also be productive. Arguing over how to do work and other kinds of task-related conflicts can actually push us to do things differently, be more creative and innovative.”

As an undergraduate at Hebrew University, Avgar had double majors in law and sociology. There, he gravitated toward labor law as a field of study, seeing it as a way to connect the law with broader societal questions.

Avgar put his labor law knowledge to good use at the Israeli National Labor Court, where he served as a law clerk for Stephen Adler ’62, then president of the court.

Reflecting on his time there, Avgar recalled, “One of the main issues, even then, was how to define an employee.”

“As work evolves and the nature of work changes, and the relationship between employers and employees, or between employers and service providers, changes, courts and institutions struggle with how to define employees.”

“It’s an issue that’s even more relevant today. When Uber doesn’t define drivers as employees, what’s at the heart of the employer-employee relationship?”

Following Adler’s recommendation, Avgar enrolled in the ILR School and worked closely with Professor David Lipsky on a number of projects, including one looking at the adoption of health information technology in nursing homes.

After graduating in 2008 with a doctorate in industrial relations from ILR, Avgar spent eight years at the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as an associate professor and assistant professor.

He returned to ILR this summer and said it’s “absolutely fantastic” being back at Cornell.

“The facilities and buildings have changed, of course, but, at its core, it’s the same. What I appreciated most as a Ph.D. student – and now as a faculty member – is the culture of engagement here, student engagement, engagement with research and one another. It’s very intellectually stimulating.”

This semester, Avgar is teaching an ILR Freshman Colloquium session and a Ph.D.-level seminar on conflict and dispute resolution.

“They’re very different, of course, but they’re similar in the sense that both have a terrific group of engaged, smart and extremely committed students.”

“I love teaching and having deep discussions around the topic of the course with Ph.D. students, and it’s interesting being part of the ILR Freshman Colloquium. It’s my first experience seeing freshmen getting integrated into ILR.”

In his spare time, Avgar spends time with family and friends, listens to music, and “obsessively” follows politics and current affairs. He’s also taking violin classes.

“As a child, I played the violin for many years. I’ve picked it back up, and I’m taking bluegrass and folk music classes.”