On September 28, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities proudly presented the 2012 George H. Johnson Prize for Distinguished Achievement by an IAH Fellow to Gerald J. Postema, Cary C. Boshamer Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Law. Postema was a Keith-Massey Faculty Fellow at the IAH in fall 2000.
The Institute created the Johnson Prize, which is presented every two years, to honor longtime IAH Friend and loyal supporter George H. Johnson of Atlanta, Ga., by recognizing outstanding IAH Fellows. Characterized by IAH Director John McGowan as a lifetime achievement award, the Johnson Prize provides the recipient $7,500, an award ceremony and an intimate banquet with George and his wife, Janet.
“It was in the spirit of George, who has given so selflessly, that we wanted also to honor faculty who have given over their lifetime to Carolina and made this a better place,” McGowan said when the IAH first announced the award in 2008.
McGowan presented Postema the award in front of colleagues, students and loved ones, and the full crowd served as a moving testament to what a beloved educator and friend he is to all who know him. Postema is an internationally respected legal philosopher who is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on the theory of jurisprudence, the philosophy of law and the thought of Jeremy Bentham. He excels as a teacher, scholar, mentor and friend, and much like George Johnson, he has a lifetime of achievement and accomplishments, more than thirty years of it spent in the UNC community.
At the award ceremony, Postema honored his own mentors and influential figures in his life as he shared personal stories about his career. Living up to his reputation as a grand orator, he spoke eloquently about the importance of community and how much he loves this university at which he has built a home and experienced immeasurable achievement and support.
He earned his Ph.D. from Cornell and began work at UNC in 1980, and he then went on to serve as chair of the Department of Philosophy from 1989-1996. He has published extensively, authoring or editing eight books and 85 articles and reviews; he has presented more than 120 lectures all over the world; and he is a former Guggenheim Fellow and Rockefeller Fellow.
In 2005 he received the UNC Distinguished Teaching Award for Post-Baccalaureate Instruction and has been named among the handful of best legal philosophers of his generation. He is considered to be the foremost authority in the U.S. on the work of Jeremy Bentham, with many crediting him with a revival of interest in Bentham’s work.
Even with his awards, fellowships and contributions to the field of legal philosophy, Jerry’s most striking contribution is his enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge and serving as an educator and mentor for both his students and colleagues. He has remained a confidante and consultant to many of his former graduate students and has built a peer network – a “family” – across the country of former students.
George Johnson has described UNC as being the place where he “learned to love to learn,” and in his remarks during the award reception, he applauded the fact that Gerald Postema is the kind of teacher who has had exactly that kind of significant impact on the lives of his students.
Johnson also discussed the value he places on public service and devoting time and talent to helping others, something that Postema exemplifies through his work on lung cancer treatment, serving on the executive committee of the North Carolina Lung Cancer Partnership and as co-chair of their education and outreach committee. He is also on the executive committee of Access TLC: Improving Access to Treatment for Lung Cancer Patients.
Combining distinguished academic achievements and contributions to his field, a spirit of collegiality and a commitment to public service and the UNC community, Gerald Postema embodies all of the qualities that are honored with the George H. Johnson Prize.
The Johnson Prize
The Institute for the Arts and Humanities first awarded the Johnson Prize in 2008, and the award pays homage to George Johnson, one of the Institute’s great ambassadors, while recognizing exemplary contributions by faculty in the arts, humanities or qualitative social sciences.
All full professors currently on faculty at UNC who have participated at any time in the Institute’s Faculty Fellows Program (including Chapman, Arts and Duke Exchange Fellows), Academic Leadership Program or Ethics Program are eligible.
The Johnson Prize honors a substantial contribution to scholarly or creative work in the arts, humanities or qualitative social sciences over the course of an entire career. Leadership in the faculty member’s chosen field of endeavor, on the UNC campus or in a specific on- or off-campus community figures prominently in the committee’s selection of the recipient.
The inaugural award in 2008 honored Trudier Harris, the J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English and an IAH Faculty Fellow and Academic Leadership Fellow. The 2010 recipient was Julia T. Wood, Lineberger Distinguished Professor of Humanities, Caroline H. and Thomas S. Royster Distinguished Professor for Graduate Education, and former associate director of the IAH Faculty Fellows program.