U Law Professor Erika George Promoted to Director of the Tanner Humanities Center


Erika George, the U's new Director of the Tanner Humanities Center (Courtesy of Erica George)

By Nicholas Rush


Erika George, former Interim Director of the Tanner Center for Human Rights, has been appointed to the Director of the Tanner Humanities Center, succeeding Dr. Robert Goldberg, who served for thirteen years as director. Stuart Culver, Dean of the College of Humanities looks forward to the new chapter of leadership. “Under George’s leadership, we look forward to developing new interdisciplinary partnerships as the center continues to play a critical role advancing the intellectual life at the university and community,” Culver said.

George, who just recently received the Legacy award from the Black Student Union here at the U for her service to students, wrote a law paper about Corporate responsibility that in 2018 reached the top ten in downloads for the Legal Scholarship Network — one of the largest online repositories of legal scholarship. The Daily Utah Chronicle spoke with the newly minted director George about her appointment and the trajectory of the Tanner Humanities Center.

Speaking to what her leadership will look like, George said, “I intend to bring new perspectives and new approaches to the excellent and diverse range of program offerings the Tanner Center has provided for Utah under Bob Goldberg’s very capable leadership over the years. I aim to facilitate constructive conversations about the challenging questions confronting humanity from different perspectives and across a range of different disciplines. I believe the Humanities are at the heart of understanding ourselves, others and our world.”   

The Chronicle asked George about her vision for Humanities at the U, and she spoke about the need to “elevate the Humanities at the U” and that she would like to see “the incredibly talented students and staff get more recognition on campus.” George added, “The Humanities can play a great role in improving the quality of people’s lives and I intend to work towards realizing this vision.”

In discussing the congealing argument that the Humanities is in the twilight of its use in modern academia, George said “I think a major problem facing the Humanities is fear. Fear of unemployment or underemployment may drive many students who would otherwise be interested in earning a humanities degree to select a course of study with the promise of immediate guaranteed earnings.”

She also understood the idea of using a college education as a conduit to a high paying career. “I completely understand the impulse to seek economic security,” George said, “But I believe it may be misguided and fueled by failure to imagine a life that works, beyond work. While there is a pay gap between humanities majors and majors in some other areas, studies have found that virtually all humanities majors do find employment and more significantly the vast majority of humanities majors report high satisfaction in their chosen careers.”

When asked about how the notion that going to school “to find a great job and make money ” contradicts the noble ideal of academia, which is supposed to bring about a more educated community — not merely a rich one. George explained, “I would simply encourage students to aim higher and to appreciate the value of a humanities education. We are living in a time of rapid change characterized by the rise of a ‘gig economy’ and technologies becoming obsolete. So selecting a course of study entirely for the sake of economic security might not be the best approach any longer. The humanities consider questions that are eternal. I think now is precisely the right time to study the humanities.”

Lastly, The Chronicle asked George to touch on how technology is becoming the main medium through which most artistic endeavors are expressed — i.e. the newest Tesla, iPhone or video game — and whether that means art, or at least capitalized art, is being shifted from the Humanities arena to the technology arena. “I believe art belongs in both realms-technology and humanities,” said George. “For example, we have an exciting new digital humanities program. Participants in the program are working beyond their disciplinary boundaries to bring together fields as seemingly disparate as the creative arts and history to computer science.”

George added, “I am especially eager to amplify the efforts of faculty, students and staff interested in operating at the intersection of many areas. Ideally the humanities and technology can come to be understood as interdependent. When I read reports of ‘digital discrimination’ or of the development of ‘algorithms of oppression’ or self-driving cars that do not see people of color I cannot help but think that I think technology designed with the sorts of insights the humanities offer just might be made more humane and less subject to misuse or abuse. The great popularity of TED talks-‘Technology, Entertainment and Design’ is likely due to the fact that most talks are not limited to just technology but rather promotes ‘ideas worth spreading’ because ultimately we are interested in talking about concerns central to the human condition. I actually believe art belongs everywhere.”

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