Miller Brings Lifetime of Experience to Dean’s Position
July 19, 2016
Michael T. Miller grew up on college campuses. When he was a little kid, he went to work on Saturdays with his father at Southern Illinois University.
“He would assign me a job,” Miller recalled. “I would go to the library to find a particular book or article. I had to make copies sometimes and it was a privilege to get a handful of coins.”
Miller’s father was a professor of secondary education in social studies and later became a department head and dean, much the same path Miller has taken, although he is a professor of higher education. Miller began a two-year term July 1 as dean of the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas.
His father went on to serve as dean of American University in Cairo, Egypt, provost of Gulf University of Science and Technology in Kuwait and provost of American University in Afghanistan. As a teenager, Miller also lived in Bangkok, Thailand, and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, when his father received a series of Fulbright grants working with adult literacy programs in rural villages. Miller came back to Southern Illinois for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
When he went to graduate school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for a doctorate, Miller had the unfortunate distinction of being enrolled in an interdisciplinary degree program that the university abruptly did away with.
“They had gone from a departmental program basis to an interdisciplinary degree program basis and I was a graduate assistant,” Miller said. “When the university decided to go back to a departmental system, a lot of us were caught in a bad situation. There was no warning that they were going to a different focus.”
The experience helped him decide he wanted a job in which he could help others, making transitions smoother and ensuring every student has a good chance to succeed.
Miller has held the position of senior associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Education and Health Professions since 2013.
Some of the accomplishments Miller is most proud of include working to create doctoral cohorts with the Arkansas Association of Community College and an on-site program with the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
“In both of those situations, students were too removed from campus to pursue graduate degrees, and through these programs we were able to connect our programs with these students where they work,” he said.
He is similarly proud of converting the compressed video degree programs to online formats.
“Working with undergraduate students in the completion of their degree programs has been the most rewarding part of my career,” he said.
Being a dean will be different, Miller said, because he will be further removed from the day-to-day operations of the college that he has helped to oversee for the past 10 years as a department head and associate dean.
“My perception is that my dad was more engaged in daily academic program management than deans are today,” he said. “From what I’ve seen – and I’ve asked (former deans) Reed Greenwood, Tom Smith, Charles Stegman and Sharon Hunt – deans today are more involved in external relationship building.”
He also has experience in that area from when he directed the office of annual giving at Southern Illinois University for three years.
“The dean must be able to identify resources and opportunities to support academic areas of the college,” Miller said. “I know our programs and I am familiar with the individuals and groups that employ our graduates and want to see and help us succeed.”
The new dean said he wants to focus on three areas: service to the state and region, strengthening graduate programs and enhancing the student and faculty diversity of the college.
“We are doing a lot with schools around the state but there is more we can do, and I’d also like to see us reach out more to mental-health facilities and other clinical areas,” he said. “We can use the expertise of our college to do a better job helping education and health systems to meet the needs of their students and patients or clients. Arkansas as a state has a number of needs and we have the expertise to help.”
Regarding graduate programs, Miller will encourage the faculty to build programs that have a distinctiveness and showcase the resources of Arkansas. Additionally, he would like to see programs bring more nationally prominent guest speakers to campus, to do more writing and editing of special issues of academic journals and to use professional meetings to recognize and reconnect with alumni to raise the profile of the college.
Miller is also planning new initiatives focusing on student success and retention.
Previously, Miller was associate dean from 2009 to 2013 and before that was head of the Department of Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders and the Department of Educational Leadership, Counseling and Foundations from 2006 to 2009. He joined the faculty of the college in 2003 and coordinated the higher education program for six years.
He formerly taught from 1999 to 2003 at San Jose State University, where he was an associate dean of the College of Education and an associate professor of educational administration. He taught at the University of Alabama from 1994 to 1999 and chaired the higher education administration program for two years. He also taught at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from 1989 to 1994.
Miller and his wife, Lara, have three children. He is a runner, having completed four marathons, and a reader. Every year, he picks an author and tries to read all of that author’s work. His favorites have been Nevil Shute, Gay Talese, Graham Greene and Lewis Grizzard.
“A friend gave me the entire set of Grizzard’s work and it was so fun and easy to read that you would just sit down and read one of his books in an afternoon.”