As a son of a life-long member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, I had personally benefited from the efforts of organized labor. As the head of the Tennessee Labor Council often stated when introducing me, “This is one chancellor who supped at a union table.”
As Chancellor of UT at Nashville, I encountered the opportunity to create a Center for Business and Labor Education, whose mission would be to provide continuing education programs for business and labor leaders. The goal was to produce better informed leaders in both camps and to build stronger relationships between business and labor.
The mission and goals appeared innocent enough on the surface. However, forging a formal partnership with organized labor was a risky venture, particularly for a campus created primarily at the urging of the Nashville business community.
The problem was compounded by the fact that my predecessor had turned down the same opportunity two years prior to my arrival, reportedly citing as his reason the strong opposition of the university system president. Since I had been executive assistant to the president at the time in question, I had reason to doubt the veracity of my predecessor.
I strongly believed that creating the center was the right thing to do and that it fit well within the mission of our university. Moreover, I saw it as a way to pay tribute to my father and the union movement he supported.
Accordingly, I bit the bullet. The system president was not enthusiastic about the decision, but he made clear that it was my decision to make and he would support it. The center recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary, and literally thousands of labor and business leaders have benefited from the continuing education opportunities it has provided. I would like to believe that the center has also contributed to the generally favorable labor/business relations in Tennessee over the years.
-adapted from Journal of a Fast Track Life © 2018 Charles E. Smith. All rights reserved.
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