Last week Chancellor Jones wrote that “we, along with so many, are struggling to fully comprehend the systemic violence and the actions of members of the Minneapolis Police Department that resulted in the death of George Floyd.” The organizational culture that tolerates such violence starts with racist thoughts and attitudes. Such a culture needs fundamental changes. I know that our alumni are working hard in their organizations to create positive cultures that embrace diversity.
As you know, the history of our School was built on the rights of workers from all walks of life. Reuben Soderstrom, instrumental in the creation of our School and now memorialized with a statue on our plaza, was deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement. He worked tirelessly to bring equality into the workplace, and supported the Illinois Fair Employment Practices Committee Act and other legislative efforts to end discrimination. He also served as an Honorary Chairman of a Rally for Civil Rights in Chicago in 1964, welcoming the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the event and inviting him to speak before the AFL-CIO a year later.
While the past three months – particularly the last three days – have been an amazing challenge, I hope that they have shown you that your choice in a future career is a good one. It is quite clear that the culture of many organizations has to change and HR is the key change agent. You will be at the center of this change as you start your careers, along with our broad and successful alumni network. I’m so proud that LER will leave a positive mark on the workplace during this challenging time.
As you have undoubtedly heard, Chancellor Jones will decide about the fate of on-line vs. on-campus classes in about two weeks. It is very likely that there will be some on-campus component that will allow us to be together again, as CDC guidelines allow. We very much look forward to that possibility and hope that we will be seeing you all in August, with whatever changes are required. As of this morning, you will be joined by approximately 90 students who have accepted our offer of admission to the on-campus MHRIR program this fall. Between now and August there will be some “melt” as some decide not to come to Champaign, but we anticipate another amazing cohort and we’re glad that you will be their guides.
Best of luck this summer with your internships and projects, and feel free to share your stories and challenges with us as your summer unfolds. Benchmarking with our network will help you figure out creative ways to tackle problems, both large and small.
Fritz Drasgow, Dean and Professor
University of Illinois | School of Labor & Employment Relations