Lorraine Justice is the new dean of the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. Justice was director of the School of Design at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University before coming to RIT in August 2011. She has worked in higher education for more than 20 years. This spring, The MIT Press will publish her book, China’s Design Revolution, which is about design, culture and politics in China. Here are her thoughts on her career path, moving to Hong Kong and returning to the United States.
I worked in industry for about 10 years and also worked as a consultant and then decided to go back to school. I was frustrated with business and the way designers were being used—I should say not being used. The worth of the designer wasn’t apparent back then and I thought I would like to do something more substantial and decided to get a master’s degree.
Then right when I was graduating there were positions open at Ohio State in the design department, and they asked me to apply and that started my academic career. I ended up being there 10 years. I taught computing and design. I taught graphic design subjects. I helped put in their first computer lab in design.
After Ohio State I went to Georgia Tech to be the director of the design program. That program needed building, it needed to be strengthened and at that point I was interested in having the design programs in the United States stay strong, especially in universities. The art schools were doing OK but the design programs in universities were always struggling for support.
What’s funny about that move is that I gave up tenure at Ohio State. At that time, the only people Georgia Tech seemed to be granting tenure to going in were astronauts. I was so nervous driving around campus. I was afraid I would hit an astronaut—take out a national figure!
I was there six years and we built that program to national standing and students won national awards. It was a good program. And then a headhunter called me about Hong Kong.
It was wild. I went to Hong Kong and they were interviewing six other people, all in different hotels. They offered the position to me that evening. And I remember calling my husband and saying I have been offered this job in Hong Kong. My husband and daughter were in shock.
It was euphoric. We just shipped our clothes, books and music and that was about it. It was like packing up the American dream and putting it in storage. Sold the house. Sold the cars. Gave a lot of stuff away. People were surprised: What is this middle-aged woman doing moving to another country?
I went over there thinking I would learn about the East and I really learned about the West. It showed me what linear thinkers we are and how we are not afraid of risk-taking. We are used to trying and failing until we succeed. Just that whole innovative type of thinking that we do, it’s really in our culture.
Of course I knew about RIT. I knew it had a good name but I had no idea really that it had such depth and breadth of creative activities, from the arts to the sciences. I continue to be impressed. There are absolutely great people here. And people work very hard. They are dedicated. They are smart.
The first few months have been exciting. There’s something really substantial about it for me. I can see where work needs to be done at the college. And we are setting about doing that as a group.