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MILR Alumni Honor Professor Gold

Michael Gold

As members of the MILR Class of 1986, John O’Donnell, Andrew Slentz and Stephen Keyes were close friends with a shared admiration for their labor and employment law professor, Michael Evan Gold.

They have stayed in touch and supported one another ever since.

This past spring, O’Donnell established a scholarship in Gold’s name and invited Slentz and Keyes to join him on campus for an event honoring their former professor. They not only agreed to attend – despite Keyes’ seven-hour drive from Columbus, Ohio – but offered to contribute. The resulting Michael Evan Gold Scholarship, for which Gold says he is deeply gratified, will be awarded to ILR undergraduates with financial need.

Professor Michael Gold sitting at a dining table with former MILR students.
Pictured from left to right: Andy Slentz, Professor Gold, John O'Donnell and Steve Keyes

O’Donnell took two courses with Gold, whom he found to be “an intellectually demanding teacher. And I appreciated that. The skills Michael taught me in terms of analyzing and thinking things through became an asset not only in my career, but in the rest of my life.”

O’Donnell spent most of his career as a field examiner in the National Labor Relations Board’s Washington, D.C., office. When Gold’s son lived in D.C., they met often and became friends.

“I've learned that writing a check is one thing, but if you can honor somebody and spread goodwill in the process, that makes it even more rewarding,” O’Donnell says, in explaining why he recognized Gold in this way.

Slentz, chief human resources officer for Hess Corporation and a member of the MILR Advisory Board, found labor and employment law to be “the most challenging course of my academic experience.” From Gold, he learned “the value of critical thought, intellectual rigor, and the dispassionate value of logic.”

“He taught us what to think about, but more importantly, how to think.”

“The issues I face organizationally and within the human capital arena are incredibly complex,” Slentz says. “The ability to think clearly, critically and anchored to core values has served me well, especially in high-pressure situations.”

Keyes, vice president for global total rewards at Abercrombie & Fitch, sums up in an email the scholarship as “an important gesture of recognition for an amazing professor (Gold), from a remarkable alumnus (O’Donnell), to support the lifeblood of the ILR School (the students).”

He remembers one moment in particular from Gold’s class: “I answered his question with a fairly vacuous talking point that I’d heard used before, which was, ‘Because it effectuates the purposes of the National Labor Relations Act.’ To which Professor Gold (no fool) replied something along the lines of ‘Oh, Mr. Keyes, I think you can come up with a more serious answer than that.’ In other words, he called me out and challenged me to be more thoughtful the next time, which I have always remembered when responding to complicated questions.”

Keyes is equally admiring of O’Donnell, whom he calls “an inspiration to us all. Without his friendship, his commitment to the school, his penchant for supporting worthy causes and rallying others around him, this honor for Professor Gold would not have come together in this way.”

Before joining the ILR School in 1977, Gold, a graduate of Stanford Law School, served with the Peace Corps in Liberia, practiced law at Schwartz, Steinsapir & Dohrmann in Los Angeles and taught at the University of San Fernando Valley College of Law.

In the required labor and employment law course for ILR undergraduates that he has taught some 50 times, he uses legal materials to foster more rigorous thinking among his students. “I have experimented with many different ways to do that – and I’m not finished experimenting.”

He acknowledges that, due to the course’s demanding nature, “students tend to either like me or hate me.”

Gold is the author of “A Primer on Legal Reasoning” (Cornell University Press, 2018) and a half-dozen other books, along with numerous journal articles.

His teaching awards include the McIntyre Award for Exemplary Teaching in 2016, 2011 and 2006, and the Schering-Plough Award for Exemplary Teaching in 1996.

Currently, he is redeveloping the “American Ideals” course, which was “wildly popular” when taught by Professor Milton Konvitz from the 1950s through 1970s. Gold began teaching it over a decade ago and has been “tinkering” with it ever since. “After a few iterations, I began to look at the intellectual milieu in which the Constitution was written – the ideas the founders had, such as the rule of law – and traced some of them to their earliest origins,” he says. He hopes to publish an anthology of readings to accompany the course.

“I'm really struck – and impressed – by how Michael continues to put so much effort into his classroom work and teaching,” O’Donnell says.

“Students are lucky to have him.”

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