The School of Labor and Employment Relations has been a leader in human resources and labor relations since 1946.

The movement to establish a school for labor research and teaching was initiated by a resolution adopted in October 1942 at the 60th annual convention of the Illinois State Federation of Labor. An act of the state legislature in 1945 established the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and it began operating in 1946. A stand-alone building was erected in 1960 to house the then-institute and its faculty and classes.

Originally, both on-campus degree programs and extension programs were included. At first only a master’s degree was offered; a PhD program was added in 1966. Joint degree programs were added with the College of Law in 1976 and the College of Commerce (now College of Business) in 1998. In October 1997, the name of the degree changed to Master’s of Human Resources and Industrial Relations (MHRIR) to reflect the evolution of the field. In 2008, the name of the institute was changed to the School of Labor and Employment Relations to reflect its elevated status as a school on campus.

Historical Timeline

YearMilestone
1945Final approval of the University appropriations to establish the Institute of Labor Relations
1946Albert J. Harno of the College of Law and University Provost, chair, in his final report to President Willard gave the Institute responsibility for fostering, establishing and correlating resident instruction, research and extension work on labor relations
1946The Griffith committee recommended to the trustees that the Institute name should be changed from the Institute of Labor Relations to the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations to broaden the jurisdiction and meet the needs of its constituents
1946The Institute’s advisory committee should be made up of five representatives each from labor, management and the general public
1946Phillips Bradley named first Director of the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations
1946The Institute opened in one large room on the fourth floor of Mumford Hall. There were five students in one graduate course taught by Professor William H. “Mac” McPherson
1947Professional Librarian appointed to develop first-class labor library collection
1947Labor Education Extension is formally established
1947W. Ellison Chalmers follows Bradley as director
1949ILIR confers first three A.M. degrees to Peter B. Liveright, James W. Shanks, and Seymour Chalfin
1949ILIR leveraged a small budget thought joint efforts with other departments to have 20 courses, 45 students and 13 faculty. Moved from the Mumford Hall location to the second floor of a private building on Sixth Street after arranging extensive renovations of the building
1949First woman, Eva Galambos, graduates with A.M.
1950First African-American, Melvin Humphrey graduates with A.M.
1951Milton Derber named acting director of the Institute following Director Chalmers decision to step down after suffering a heart attack
1952Robben W. Fleming named fourth director of the Institute.  He initiated a fund drive to construct an Institute building
1956Building funds received from State of Illinois, Steelworkers of America, William Green Memorial Fund, and State Federation of Labor
1962Martin Wagner named fifth director of the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations
1962Beginning of Management extension program and forming of an ILIR Alumni program
1962On April 19, ILIR moves into new building at Fifth and Armory
1962Formal separation of labor education extension and management extension program, establishing a labor education extension unit with Phillips Garman as director, and Earl Wolfe as director of management extension
1963The Institute enters a five year exchange program of students and faculty with Keio University in Tokyo furthering Japanese-American understanding of labor relations: Director Wagner, and faculty members Solomon B. Levine and Bernard Karsh head the program which is funded in part by the Ford Foundation
1965Opening of the Chicago Labor Education Program to provide courses, conferences and other educational services for Chicago Area Trade unionists
1966PhD program established.
1968Melvin Rothbaum named Institute’s sixth director.  Professor Wagner returns full time to teaching
1970First Doctorate degree awarded by the Institute to John Niland, an Australian
1971Richard Mannweiler named head of Management Education Program after Earl Wolf’s retirement
1976Ronald J. Peters named head of Labor Education Program
1976ILIR offers Joint JD/AM program with College of Law
1980sStudent placement grows by 100% throughout the decade; Corporate Fellowship Program provides funding for hundreds of students
1981Walt Franke named Institute’s seventh director
1982ILIR creates Alumni Annual Giving Program, the first of its kind at Illinois, which consistently is one of the most successful giving program on campus
1984Arnold Weber A.M. ‘51, President Emeritus of Northwestern University, speaks to students and receives the first Distinguished Alumni Award
1987Chicago Federation of Labor AFL-CIO establishes Brabec Fellowship
1987Women for the first time made up more than 50% of the enrollment
1990Inaugural Milton Derber Lecture
1991Center for Human Resource Management (CHRM) is founded to match corporate interests with faculty research skills
1991Students form Labor Studies Club
1993Multicultural Student Association formed to meet needs of growing number of minority students enrolled at ILIR
1993ILIR sends major delegation to conference held in conjunction with Japan Institute of Labor; faculty and staff also visit Hong Kong and Taiwan
1994Peter Feuille named Institute’s eighth director
1994An endowed fund in honor of Hachiro ‘Buddy’ Koyama is established to “open the doors of opportunity” for international and internationally involved students
1996ILIR and Japan Institute of Labor jointly host conference in Chicago
1997ILIR 50th Anniversary Celebration
1997ILIR changes the master’s degree from A.M., Labor and Industrial Relations to MHRIR, Human Resources and Industrial Relations
1997Martin Wagner gives generous gift to inspire other alumni to donate toward the first endowed Professorship
1998The Martin Wagner Education Center was dedicated during the fall alumni weekend.  Previous classroom lounge area was remodeled, enlarged and updated technologically (1st building enhancement in the building’s 35+ years)
1998ILIR Faculty Teaching Excellence Award introduced; Professor Wally Hendricks first awardee
1999Family fellowship program is established to support student education; Alumni Wayne Anderson, Lee Loichle, and Alan May make significant contributions to establish endowed fellowships
1999The Industrial Relations Research Association organization moved its headquarters to the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (now LERA)
2000Craig Olson named the First ILIR Alumni Professor
2002Emma Jean Mahoney, ILIR’s longest-serving employee, is honored for 43 years of service by campus and ILIR at her retirement
2002Ron Peters retires as Head of Labor Education Program; Ed Hertenstein (Champaign) and Bob Bruno (Chicago) will fill the position
2004100% of December class placed in jobs before graduation
2005ILIR hosts Alumni Professorship Symposium
2005ILIR hosts HR Games
2005First LIRA Formal is held
2006ILIR hosts a 60th anniversary celebration
2006Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld named Institute’s ninth director
2007The international student population composes one quarter of students
2008Renovations are completed to make six professional recruiting suites and an administrative area named the Walt Franke Suite.  These rooms replace the former library space. Telecommunications capabilities were added, library services were shifted over to digital formats.  Gifts of $200,000 from key alumni, corporations and emeritus faculty/directors made project possible.
2008Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations officially becomes School of Labor and Employment Relations; the director positions become dean titles
2009Labor Education Program introduces distance learning courses as part of new undergraduate curriculum in Global Labor Studies
2009LER hosts a memorial service for Archie Green, LER librarian from 1960-72 and founder of the Campus Folksong Club who lobbied Congress to establish the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress
2010The former second-floor administrative suite is converted to a faculty office suite, funded by Director Emeritus Peter Feuille and his wife, Susan
2012Professor Joseph Martocchio is named Interim Dean of the School; he is the school’s 10th dean/director
2013Professor Fritz Drasgow is named Interim Dean of the School; permanently appointed to the position in 2014 and is the School’s 11th dean/director
2013Renovations are completed for the basement corridors and the first floor corridors/offices to begin upgrading the general building space for the first time
2014Peter B. Liveright, AM 1949 and the oldest living graduate of the School, delivers the May Convocation address
2014Building renovations continue with complete upgrades to all second floor corridors and offices
2015LER delivers the first online degree classes to the inaugural cohort of students
2018Immediately following May commencement ceremonies, ground is broken on a $6 million renovation and addition to the LER building, the first addition to the physical space since the building was constructed. Two new classrooms and an outdoor gathering space are among the amenities.
2019Building grand opening for the new classrooms and outdoor space is held in September 2019, featuring the Chancellor, Provost, and key donors
2020All classes and activities for the School are moved to completely remote formats due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 20-21 school year is conducted in a hybrid format, with most student contact happening virtually. The School returned to in-person instruction for the traditional program in fall 2021.