[INTRO MUSIC PLAYING] DONNA GOSS: Hello, and welcome to this edition of Staff Notes. I'm Donna Goss, and I'm here today with Alan Mittman, who is the director of the Office of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations. Hi Alan.
ALAN MITTMAN: Hi.
DONNA GOSS: Thanks for being with us here today.
ALAN MITTMAN: Happy to be here.
DONNA GOSS: How are you?
ALAN MITTMAN: Very well on this first day of Spring.
DONNA GOSS: First day of Spring here in Ithaca. But you've been here before for the first day of Spring in Ithaca, several different Springs over the years.
ALAN MITTMAN: Several different first dates, yes. I started as an undergraduate here in the late '60s, early '70s, which was an interesting time.
DONNA GOSS: Interesting time on campus, yeah.
ALAN MITTMAN: It was. We felt that we were changing the world. And it was a lot of activism and student unrest, but we were very serious about what we were doing.
DONNA GOSS: Why did you decide to come to Cornell as a student?
ALAN MITTMAN: Well, those were the days before you had a lot of college tours, and Internet.
DONNA GOSS: If you'd known better!
ALAN MITTMAN: So it was really by reputation and geography, purely. My father, who owned a small furniture company, and his driver brought me up to Cornell on the first day and dropped me off with my camp trunk. Said, have a good college career. They turned around and drove back home. And that was it. And then I started looking for people in my dorm, Sperry Hall, on the West Campus.
DONNA GOSS: And you're still looking for people, right? You've been doing that ever since.
ALAN MITTMAN: I'm trying to find people from then. But it was completely unknown at that point. There was very little information that we had other than Cornell, the reputation, the classes, the courses, things like that.
DONNA GOSS: So you had your undergrad experience here, and then you left campus for a little bit.
ALAN MITTMAN: We did, yes. I was married after my junior year. And we stayed in Ithaca till my wife graduated from Ithaca College. And we went to Berkeley, California where other things were happening to attend law school at the University of California at Berkeley Boalt Hall Law School.
DONNA GOSS: Oh, how about that?
ALAN MITTMAN: Spent three years in northern California before coming back to New York City to practice law for about 10 years.
DONNA GOSS: So you were in the city for that length of time in a big law firm, and then you decided to make a little bit of a career move, right?
ALAN MITTMAN: That's right, yeah. There came an opportunity to join a small law firm at the time on Long Island, where we were then living. And I joined with a group that I thought had a lot of potential. And I think I was right. We grew to about 50 lawyers over time. And that's where I stayed until making the big decision to move back to Ithaca.
DONNA GOSS: So, why the move back to Ithaca? And why-- when then, and why are you here now?
ALAN MITTMAN: Well it evolved slowly. I wound up getting back involved in Cornell alum activities. I was the President of the Cornell Club of Long Island for about four years. Our son attended as an undergraduate here in the mid-90s. And as we got more and more into Cornell and Ithaca, I became more and more comfortable being here.
And it was palpable. You could feel the way that my wife and I felt when we were up here as this is the place we wanted to be. So we just decided one day to pack up, tell my law partners I would be leaving the firm in a few months' time, and sold the house, came up to Ithaca, and here we are.
DONNA GOSS: Now, when you first came to Ithaca, you really didn't have any intention of working full-time, or full-time and a half I think is what you're working at.
ALAN MITTMAN: Right. No, that's true. That's true. My wife says that she thought we were retired. I say that we were just between jobs. And as a result of looking for things to do and getting involved in not-for-profit work, by total happenstance, I connected with Lynette Chappell-Williams, who was looking for some assistance in her office. I was also teaching at TC3, and attending events, and lectures, and all that.
And one thing led to another, I wound up being hired into her office, which was Workforce Diversity, Equity, and Life Quality at the time. That part time job became a real full-time job, and I got into the Cornell workforce full steam ahead. And about 18 months ago, I had an opportunity to take my current position, which I'm now in.
DONNA GOSS: So, the role of that you're in now has actually grown from what it used to be. It was a much smaller office of Labor Relations. And now there are different components. Can you talk about how your office has changed over the last several months?
ALAN MITTMAN: Yes. Well, the office was a labor relations, employee relations office, and it still is. We do all of the work that was done under my predecessor Pete Tufford, including negotiation of contracts with our bargaining units. My first year here, all seven bargaining unit contracts expired or had opening clauses so that we had to work on all of them in one year, which was a challenge, but they all successfully resulted in new contracts.
Then on top of that, the office always did unemployment insurance work, which it continues to do under Barb Ciani. And I continue to work on the labor relations and contract administration work with Barb and Lauren Jacoby, both of whom have been here about 30 years.
DONNA GOSS: It's Barb Ciani?
ALAN MITTMAN: Barb Ciani and Lauren Jacoby who are absolutely essential to functioning with their long history here and terrific contributions. So we kept those aspects of the Office of Labor Relations, Employee Relations and Staff Policy continuing. Staff HR policy is also within our bailiwick. So all of those activities continue unabated.
What we added to it was a portfolio of mine from my old office. So I am the University Official for Conducting Investigations and resolving concerns and complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination, and other forms of discrimination that are brought to our attention. And so I am doing that with a colleague of mine, Laurel Parker, who was with me at the old office. We continue to do that. And Laurel's work has expanded as well. And we continue to do disability and religious workplace accommodations from the old office.
And finally, we added to the work that we do, the HR academic policy role. Mike Esposito had been doing that. And he has added to our office to build upon the synergy with the nonacademic policy work that we do, and adding to it the policy HR work that we do. So that's essentially the composition of the office today.
And we still do the fundamental work of resolving concerns of discrimination and harassment, for which people can email us at EqualOpportunity@cornell.edu. That's the best way to get us on an email basis. Or to call me at 255-6866 for any concerns.
We review concerns of discrimination and harassment against faculty, staff, and student when they are brought by faculty, or staff. That's our population. Complaints among students generally are referred to the Judicial Administrator's Office unless they're in the employment context. Our bailiwick in this field is employment and educational environment, and that's what we do.
DONNA GOSS: So, you've talked about the distinction between your office and the Judicial Administrator's Office. Tell me about how your office links with your former office, the group that Lynette Chappell-Williams heads up.
ALAN MITTMAN: Sure. So Lynette's office, after the reorganization that brought me to my current position, is also renamed as Workforce, Diversity, and Inclusion. And they're responsible for much of our diversity efforts for workforce areas, of family and workplace accommodations, and is also do elder care advice, affirmative action work. So our office works with them on common goals, common themes. As you can see, they would be related. But the separation comes to the investigation stage under our policy.
DONNA GOSS: And where do disability issues fall. Is that in your purview?
ALAN MITTMAN: Partially, yes. The office at Cornell that handles workforce disability accommodations is the Medical Leaves Administration under Patti Bennett Riddle and her staff. And I work with them on reviewing requests for workplace accommodations, whether it be a change in a schedule, some sort of equipment change, some sort of transportation issue. Whatever may come up, we encourage people very strongly to visit with MLA, Medical Leaves Administration. Patti or her team will get me involved, and then we'll work on that together.
DONNA GOSS: Now, your office is not in Day Hall. You're actually off-campus. Can you talk a little bit about that, some of the challenges that that might bring about?
ALAN MITTMAN: Yes. So coincident with my move from Lynette's office, I relocated my office, as did Laurel, to the CISER SRI Building at 391 Pine Tree Road, big white building right on the-- adjacent to the street. And at first I was-- I had my concerns, a little trepidation about moving away from Day Hall, the heart of campus, keeping in contact with people, and things like that.
But I found that people who visit us often have, of course, sensitive, confidential concerns. And they welcome the opportunity to leave campus so that they don't run into somebody, somebody doesn't see them in Day Hall. Whether or not that might happen, who knows, but there's a concern about that.
And so there is transportation to our office. And-- or we can meet people on campus at a neutral place. So we travel. And it's had a positive, I think, effect on people being able to feel comfortable wherever we meet, whether at a place on campus or at our offices.
I do try, though, to reach out and do what I call my "shoe leather." You've got to be out there and making meetings on campus, extending meetings a little bit to get into the swing of things because you do miss some of that random access and interactions that happens just walking across the Quad or in the building at Day Hall. So I do try to make up from that-- for that by walking in on people, quite frankly, sometimes unannounced, saying, here his is, the nuisance, and trying to see who will talk to me.
And accomplish quite a lot. I found that being out there, you get quite a lot done. You can't just do your work behind your desk.
DONNA GOSS: I know that one of the ways that you stay in touch and do that outreach is through volunteer activities. And one of the things that you've really been involved in is campus governance.
ALAN MITTMAN: Yes. I guess back from my college days, and the activism, getting involved in what's happening has always been part of my DNA. And when we moved back up here, I got involved with the Kitchen Theater Company as a board member, a local group that works on prisoners' rights, and also teaching at TC3.
And so it became sort of natural for me, once I found out about the employee assembly, to look into that. And so I ran for election. I was successful, and soon, the post of Treasurer for two years. And I was very, very pleased to be on that group.
I think-- I know that President Skorton views the Employee Assembly as an important part of governance. And he also participates by answering questions and giving information to the EA on a regular basis, as does our Vice President of Human Resources, Mary Opperman. So it's a real link to senior administration. And I found that very valuable.
And we tried some initiatives while I was there, including reconstituting the way people are elected, which, you'll see right now, there are openings now on the board that have been advertised. President Skorton sent an email around recently noting that. And so I do encourage people to get involved and find out what it's all about. It's a great way to keep in touch with faculty, and staff, and students. We have students who as well come to our meetings. And it gives you a chance to get out and do some of the "shoe leather" I talk about.
DONNA GOSS: Right. Now, when you're not involved in campus activities, I know your family is a really important part of your life. And you recently had a get together of all of you, I think, on the West Coast.
ALAN MITTMAN: We did, yes, yes. We brought our family to a home in Palo Alto. And I made-- sorry, Pebble Beach. We went to Palo Alto first to Pebble Beach and had our immediate family, our son and his wife, and our granddaughter. He's a faculty member at Cal State Chico. And we're very proud of him and is-- was the undergraduate at Cornell that I mentioned earlier.
And our daughter, Erica, and her wife were at the affair with their new twins. They have twin babies.
DONNA GOSS: Wonderful.
ALAN MITTMAN: So, they were there, and some other immediate family members. And we had a grand time.
DONNA GOSS: Well, great that sounds wonderful. We always wrap up our program by asking the question, if you could be President of Cornell for a day, what would you do?
ALAN MITTMAN: Well, you mean after appointing myself to the coaching teams of the men's hockey, basketball, and soccer teams? After doing that, well, something of a throwback to my student days, I think I would work on teachings. I would work on organizing large teachings that captured the imagination of the students-- open, of course, to faculty and staff as well-- as we had before and during my college days on issues of interest to students, whether they be local, state, national, international. Continue to do what the President is doing, and trying to get the pulse of students and being in touch, but really try to organize, and challenge, and engagement with students on a large level, to have speakers, discussion, wide open exchange of ideas in large meetings. That's what Cornell was famous for when I was here. And I think I'd like to work on that again.
DONNA GOSS: Yeah, what a wonderful thought.
ALAN MITTMAN: That's what I do.
DONNA GOSS: All right. Thanks for sharing that. And thanks for being here on Staff Notes today.
ALAN MITTMAN: You're very welcome. Thank you for having me.
DONNA GOSS: Thank you for joining us on Staff Notes, and we'll see you next time.
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Join Donna Goss for a conversation with Alan Mittman, director of the Office of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations. Listen in to hear about Alan's role at the university.
Alan came to Cornell as an undergraduate in the late 60s, early 70s. He married after his junior year and stayed in the area while his wife finished her degree at IC. After a few homes, including California and Long Island, Alan moved back to Ithaca and joined Cornell as a staff member within Workforce Diversity and Inclusion (formerly the Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality).
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