by Jacqueline Stoughton
Following a long and successful career in education, Central Connecticut President Jack Miller announced his retirement to begin in September, after 12 years of involvement with this campus and its community.
Originating from Chicago, Miller initially had different intentions for his career path. Starting as a freshman at University of Tulsa, unsure of the academic direction he’d go in over the next four years. At the end of his freshman year, Miller transferred to Ohio University on a football scholarship where he studied journalism. Following his undergraduate graduation with plans to write for an Idaho newspaper, a complicated turn of events brought Miller back home to Chicago where he would be an assistant high school football coach while teaching third grade at Paderewski Elementary.
Miller continued taking classes in order to keep his “emergency teaching certificate,” eventually attending graduate school to obtain his masters degree from Purdue University. Throughout his teaching experiences, Miller developed a passion for literacy education. He became a professor at Wichita University in Kansas where he taught future teachers how to teach children to read.
Miller arrived at CCSU as president in 2005, after making the switch from professor to administrator in higher education. While each day, Miller says, has its good and bad moments, the memories that stick with him the most are having to share in the sadness and grief of watching young students pass away, whether due to natural causes or accidents – it’s a reoccurring tragedy each year.
“Watching the sadness when a young person losses their life, that’s what makes the biggest impact on me,” said Miller. “There’s plenty of great times and fun times, but if you want to say what’s the single thing that just hits you right in the face, it’s every year losing a few students. Seeing their parents losing children that are 20-years-old, it’s sad.”
Miller explained seeing students create memorials, helping out others in the neighborhood and participating in plays and sports games have been some of his most memorable moments during his time as president. “Every week there’s something good.”
During the first year of his presidency, Miller created a list of 40 goals he wanted to accomplish throughout his time at CCSU. Although he was successful in the majority of those goals, one he wishes he had more time for was his efforts in increasing the amount of students who partake in study abroad courses up to at least 1,000 students traveling each year. According to Miller, “We’re about half way there.”
Overall, Miller says he has no regrets regarding unpopular decisions he may have made during his presidency.
“When you try to make the right decisions for the right reasons it doesn’t always work out, but you don’t necessarily regret it because you did it based on what you knew when you did it. I can’t really say there’s something where I have terrible regrets,” said Miller.
Miller has many notable accomplishments over the past 12 years, all which played a part in bringing the university up to the high status that it currently stands at. Such as adding more academic space, which is still a goal in process with the renovations of Willard and DiLoreto, the completion of a new dining hall, the renovation of the bubble and addition of a new stem building – all happening within the next few years.
However, Miller’s biggest accomplishment is the drastic increase in graduation rates. Bringing the 40 percent graduation rate in 2005, which is in the lowest quartile, up to 57 percent by 2015.
“My goal was 52 percent. Over ten years, over 1,100 students have graduated who otherwise wouldn’t have,” said Miller. “Those are people who have a college degree who wouldn’t otherwise have a college degree.”
Provost Carl Lovitt explains he believes Millers success as a leader to be attributed to his establishment of clear goals, setting budget priorities and maintaining high standards.
“President Miller is perhaps the most intelligent man I’ve ever worked with. No matter what I proposed to do, he could always think of objectives I hadn’t considered – not necessarily because he didn’t agree with me but because he wanted me to be able to defend my position. But once the discussion was over, he trusted me to make my own decisions,” said Lovitt. “He earned the respect of his colleagues for being a leader of the university and not a micromanager. He also knows more about sports than anyone I’ve ever met, and I was always amused that he could identify the sports mascot of any college or university I mentioned. I will also remember him as someone who could surprise you with his thoughtfulness and generosity.”
Lovitt recalls a time when Miller brought his son down onto the field at a CCSU football half-time show. “It made a huge impression on my son, and it’s something I’ll never forget. I wish him the very best in his retirement, but I know that a lot of us are going to miss having him here at CCSU.”
According to Miller, the biggest challenge every administrator will face and something that will always present itself as a challenge, is trying to balance the decreasing percentage of money for college paid by the state, causing the increase paid by students to rise at alarming rates.
“Trying to balance a high quality education program without charging the students so much that it gets out of reach for the majority of young people while the states are decreasing the amount that they spend is, I think, the number one challenge,” said Miller. “Cost containment, maintain quality, try to contain costs. And it’s not going to get better, it was a challenge when I started, it’s a challenge now, it’ll be a challenge for the next person, and it’s a challenge all over the country in public education.”
According to Laura Tordenti, Vice President of Student Affairs who reports directly to President Miller, explains that his wise council has assisted her in many challenging matters.
“He listens very carefully and then provides a perspective, insight, or possible solutions that I may not have fully considered. He gets to the heart of a matter very quickly and often challenges my assumptions or thinking on a particular issue. I have made better decisions, or have approached a situation in another fashion, as a result of having talked with him,” said Tordenti.
Miller has continuously made himself available for students and faculty throughout the CCSU community as an ally, particularly for the journalism department in 2012 following the scandal involving soccer Coach Shaun Green throwing away 150 copies of The Recorder in the Student Center over an unfavorable article highlighting the disqualification of the soccer team from the following years postseason because of NCAA academic sanctions.
“If there’s one thing I believe in about education, in particular post-secondary education, it’s that it’s a place where people should come and be challenged and experience different thoughts and ideas; I think that’s what education is,” said Miller. “I’ve had the opportunity on many occasions to defend that principle and I defend it because I believe in it. The printed word and the spoken word is what education is based on.”
Miller has many goals that he’s set in motion that he hopes to see accomplished following his departure. Including, doubling the endowment, which he’s increased already to about $18 to $62 million. He would like to see an increase in the student population by another 50 percent.
“I think there’s a lot of great potential here; you look at the way this place looks and the way it’s going to look,” said Miller. “I think that Central can be one of the better regional public comprehensive universities in the country. I believed that 11 years ago, and I still believe it. There’s a lot that needs to be done to get to that level.”
According to Christopher Galligan, Vice President of Institutional Advancement, explains as president, Miller has done a remarkable job by all constituents by raising the stature of CCSU within his 12 years here.
“His presence in the community, with alumni and friends has helped raise dollars and connect people back to the university,” said Galligan. “He’s an effective leader and focuses on what’s important and allows us to be creative and innovative in a hands-off approach.”
Galligan recalls Miller telling him to embrace failure, to stretch yourself – and that if you’re not failing then you’re not trying. Galligan says he’ll remember Miller most for his sense of humor and his unsuccessful attempts at convincing him that Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band is the best band of all time. “He takes his job seriously but not himself seriously. He created a fun environment for all of us to work in,” said Galligan.
Miller has many exciting plans as he nears retirement life. So far he looks forward to doing some selective public speaking events regarding his new world literacy book set to be published in three weeks, as well as getting his strong golf game back, becoming more aggressively involved in the horse racing business and volunteering at a school to teach young children to read.
“What I will miss about CCSU is what I will miss about being involved in the education of students; I’m gonna miss seeing those students succeed,” said Miller. “I’m going to miss seeing 200 more students a year succeeding than would have. But mostly, I don’t know what I’m going to miss before I miss it.”