We deeply and personally regret the departure of Dean Dianne Harris but we are pleased that the Mellon Foundation has offered her a position so well suited to her talents and enthusiasms—and we also hope that this newly forged connection with the Mellon Foundation will eventually redound to the benefit of the College of Humanities and the University of Utah. Dean Harris had a strong vision of the College as a collaborative, unified enterprise, rather than as a collection of departments, and many of our already established or still developing programs reflect that vision: undergraduate Humanities Scholars, Medical Humanities, the community-oriented Humanities in Focus, and the Clemente Course in the Humanities which serves high school sophomores and juniors at West High. A commitment to the Environmental Humanities Program has been an ongoing priority for the College over the past few years, coupled with the University’s support of the Taft-Nicholson Center in Montana as a venue for cross-disciplinary work and reflection. The College has been working to develop a faculty in Environmental Humanities from across the disciplines, and that currently includes members of the Communication, English, History and Philosophy departments; this year the Communication Department will make an additional appointment in the field of Environmental Communication.
As interim deans we welcome the challenge of sustaining and advancing Dean Harris’ initiatives until a newly appointed dean can take the reins of the college, but we’re also eager to hear how candidates for this position envision their own leadership of the college—and what we can do to pave the way for the changes that will be coming. It seems to us very likely that a new dean will want to continue Dean Harris’ efforts to increase faculty self-governance, community outreach, both local and national visibility of research by humanities faculty, and innovations in undergraduate teaching. In connection with the impetus for new research we should certainly mention the indispensable role of Jake Jensen, as Associate Dean for Research, who has not only encouraged faculty productivity but guided them toward success in finding external funding. We are both well acquainted with administration in our college, as well. Stuart Culver, a scholar of 19th- and 20th-century American literature and culture, has already served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs over the past two years and worked closely with Dean Harris in developing the programs and initiatives we’ve inherited. Barry Weller, who now joins the College team until July, studies Renaissance and 19th-century British literature (and a few things before and after). Both of us are former chairs of the English Department but with strong ties to, and passionate interest in, the other departments and programs in the College--and beyond.
Dean Harris’s understanding of the College as a collaborative unit deserves to be extended to undergraduate and graduate education in the University as a whole. Some of the connections we seek are already in place: for the past few years our faculty members have taught elective courses in the College of Business, our courses frequently enroll students from the Entertainment Arts and Engineering Program, and as indicated above, we are working to develop vital cross-campus connections in other areas, including medicine and law. We unequivocally affirm the centrality and value of the humanities to whatever courses of study students pursue, but of course we think humanities majors have the edge and are the best-equipped for the challenges of a quickly changing public and commercial sphere. A decade ago no one foresaw many of the current employment possibilities available to college graduates. If no one can prepare for the unforeseen (and perhaps unforeseeable) it seems clear that humanities graduates are the best prepared to navigate new terrain. The ability to analyze a situation from multiple perspectives, to synthesize and imagine new solutions, to collaborate with colleagues, to communicate effectively in both speech and writing—in short, to draw upon the past and present to create a new future—these are a few of the skills that we believe an education in disciplines of the humanities cultivates and enhances.
Co-Interim Deans, College of Humanities