"Labor of Love"

Harris '83 returning to ILR as Distinguished Scholar
Thursday, January 2, 2014

Since earning his ILR degree in 1983, Seth Harris has gained an international reputation as a labor and policy leader, advisor to presidents and their cabinets, accomplished scholar and educator, and, most recently, as deputy secretary of labor for the United States.

His path now brings him back to ILR, where Harris takes on his newest challenge as a Distinguished Scholar. His appointment begins Jan. 20.

In this role, Harris will collaborate with faculty in ILR's Department of Labor Relations, Law, and History, teach courses in labor law and policy, and advise students on internship and job opportunities in Washington, D.C.

"I hope to offer students a combination of scholarly depth, developed during nine years as a law professor, with practical policy experience, acquired over 11 years working in the U.S. Department of Labor," Harris says.

Harry Katz, ILR's Kenneth F. Kahn Dean, says the addition of Harris as a Distinguished Scholar will have great benefits for students and further enrich a labor education program regarded as the best in the world.

"Seth is among an elite ILR alum group that has risen to the very top ranks of leadership in federal government and policy," Katz said.

"His experience in the Obama administration, along with his scholarly pursuits in areas integral to an ILR education, will provide an even deeper perspective for our students both inside and outside the classroom," the dean added.

Harris served as deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor from May 2009 until January 2014. In the position, he managed 19 agencies and four adjudicatory boards. He oversaw functions ranging from strategic planning and performance management to legislation and policy development and implementation.

As acting labor secretary for a portion of his service, he served as a member of President Barack Obama's cabinet. Before joining the Obama administration, he had been a professor and director of labor and employment law programs at New York Law School since 2000.

One of Harris's first ILR teaching assignments will be assisting with a disability law course this spring. "Disability law and policy have been an important part of my life for almost 20 years," he says.

His extensive disability experience includes research on the economics of the Americans with Disabilities Act and "work with my labor department colleagues to enact new regulations making federal contractors' affirmative action efforts for people with disabilities more effective."

Harris will be traveling between Washington, D.C, and Ithaca, but said this will not affect his ability to "engage fully in the life of the school."

"I want to meet regularly with and counsel students, offer my faculty colleagues insights into the policymaking process, and help my former government colleagues to understand the tremendous value the ILR School can offer."

Harris never lost contact with ILR after graduating, but returning to the school as a Distinguished Scholar has special meaning, he said.

"I've stayed in touch with faculty members like Ron Ehrenberg, Ron Seeber and Dave Lipsky. I served on the ILR Advisory Board for a time. So, in a very real sense, this is a homecoming for me. It's like being welcomed by your family after a long and exciting journey."

This new role at ILR, he adds, is a "labor of love" for another very important reason.

"Both of my parents were teachers, and I spent some of the best years of my professional life as a teacher. For me, this is an opportunity to get back to a profession that I love at an institution that helped make me who I am today."