For its future, School of Labor and Employment Relations must merge with Business

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

Some majors offered by the University are interdisciplinary, meaning that they require an understanding from not one but multiple fields of study. University academic departments recognize the importance of reaching out to other disciplines, but when proposals are made to merge colleges together, we have to wonder if both sides will benefit mutually.

So, where do we draw the line?

Well, it’s a delicate one. On one side, the merged colleges can continue to operate and offer courses at the University. The alternative is that one school loses its identity by becoming a smaller unit within a larger, generally more prestigious program.

That’s where University administrators and top labor officials are at odds.

The Daily Illini reported last week that University officials are considering pushing through a proposal that would merge the School of Labor and Employment Relations with the College of Business or another larger college.

It would be a long and laborious process to the say the least, requiring the proposal to be pushed through an Urbana-Champaign Senate subcommittee, the University Board of Trustees and various University offices.

But we believe it’s a change worth pursuing.

Provost Ilesanmi Adesida told the House Economic Development Committee in mid-October that the University is looking for new options that would help the more than 60-year-old school expand and continue to attract top-tier students.

However, Michael Carrigan, president of the state’s AFL-CIO union, said the merger could mean that fewer union members will participate in the program. Another fear is that LER will lose its identity and be outshined by the College of Business, which houses several highly ranked programs already.

But LER already has a history of success. No formal national ranking system exists for labor schools, so LER can only stand to benefit to be associated with programs that are ranked.

Employers consistently acknowledge that LER ranks in the upper echelon — at least in the top-three. And the education it provides, whether in human resources or managing unions, has an indelible place in the real world, especially as labor-related issues and workplaces evolve across the country, even more so around the world.

But for that history to continue, merging with Business could prove useful. LER needs to be able to focus on what’s most important: continuing to attract top-notch students for its graduate programs.

To increase LER’s master’s degree enrollment, campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said that LER “needs campus support and a larger infrastructure to do that.” Over the past five years, the master’s degree enrollment numbers have fluctuated between 100 and 200.

Without a long-term foundation, we remain concerned for the future LER, a school most necessary in today’s business and labor landscape.

The program should continue to be offered as long as the University is operational, but to do that, LER must realign with a strong partner with an even stronger presence: the College of Business.

Business’ top priority, if merged, may not necessarily be the School of Labor and Employment Relations, but it will bring stability to a program that can and should be recognized nationwide.