McGill’s industrial relations program, which was in danger of being terminated earlier this semester, will face re-structuring that will allow the program to continue to exist within the Faculty of Arts.
The industrial relations program is an interdisciplinary program that allows students to study labour-management relations. The program includes courses in both the Faculties of Arts and Management, although students are officially registered in the Faculty of Arts.
Lucyna Lach, associate dean of arts and professor in the School of Social Work, is working on the re-structuring process with Robert Hebdon, re-appointed chair of the Industrial Relations program and current associate dean and professor in the Faculty of Management.
Lach noted that this is a critical time to think about what the program should look like heading into the future, and how to make those changes. One of the reasons the program was at risk of being cancelled was due to agreement that what was being taught in the classroom was out of touch with the reality of the industry and the workforce.
According to Lach, changes to the program will take into consideration the drastic shift in issues faced in the workforce since the program was established in 1945.
Lach noted that in 1945, strikes were a common issue in the workforce, whereas now, issues revolve around different matters, such as gender.
“There’s a perception that the program has been around for a long time, [it] was designed in a different time, and that it would be really interesting to sit back and reflect on how to modernize it, if you will,” Lach said.
Hebdon agrees that the pro
gram needs to be updated to survive. Hebdon noted that many of the professors who taught and who currently teach in the program are of retirement age.
“A program can’t run on its own, it needs faculty to teach it and look after it, and there’s a sense now that many faculty that were committed to industrial relations have retired or are about to retire,” he said. “So [the program] definitely needs a remake. It’s now just a matter of setting up a process to make that happen in the most effective way.”
Hebdon noted that he would like to see the program maintain an interdisciplinary approach by continuing to integrate courses from different departments in the Faculties of Arts and Management.
“That’s how industrial relations started really—it was a commonality, an interdisciplinary approach to solving a workplace problem [such as] strikes,” he said. “Now I think the issues [are] different and they’re new, but I think there’s a similar kind of interest [in an interdisciplinary approach] that I see.”
Despite a current lack of faculty and advisors, student interest in the industrial relations program has been steadily increasing since 2003, according to Hebdon.
“When I started, enrollment was in the [mid-seventies],” Hebdon said. “It hovered around that for a few years, and … around 2003, it went down. It’s low point was 55 … but it’s almost doubled [since].”
The McGill Industrial Relations Association (MIRA), which represents the students enrolled in the program, expressed concerns to the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) about the possibility of the program’s discontinuation earlier this semester.
“We were just told by upper-level administration within [the program] that there was potential for the program to be cancelled,” MIRA President Benjamin Kershman said. “There were people that either didn’t want the responsibility that was attached to heading up the program before Hebdon received the head position, or it may have been something do with the fact that … big budget cuts [were announced], and this was one of the smaller programs.”
Kershman informed Justin Fletcher, vice-president internal of the AUS, that the program was at risk of termination. As a next step, Fletcher and Kershan submitted a motion to the Feb. 18 AUS General Assembly (GA). The motion intended to galvanize AUS support for maintaining the industrial relations program within the Faculty of Arts. It was passed by a consultative forum, as the GA failed to reach quorum.
“It’s important that the Faculty of Arts offer[s] a variety of programs,” Fletcher said. “Industrial relations has a lot of management, sociology, and economics [courses], and interdisciplinary studies are really important because you [acquire] skills… you get exposed to so many different areas.”
Even though the program is no longer facing the risk of discontinuation, discussions on changes are ongoing, and will include students, according to Hebdon.
“The [MIRA] know that they will have input on [redesigning the] program,” Hebdon said. “We plan on having students formally on the committee … student input is vital.”