The Binghamton University community met Dr. Gary Miller, one of five candidates for BU’s presidency, in an open session on Thursday afternoon.
The event was filled to capacity in the Old Union Hall with faculty and staff, but few students turned out for the meeting.
Miller discussed his own background, as well as today’s major issues in public higher education and student achievement.
He completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees in biology at The College of William and Mary and described it as a “transformational experience.” He earned his doctorate in biological sciences at Mississippi State University, where he then stayed on as an assistant professor.
He then became a professor at the University of Mississippi before becoming dean of the College of the Pacific and a professor of biology at the University of the Pacific and finally, in June 2006, provost and vice president for academic affairs and research at Wichita State University, a position that he currently holds.
Miller explained his goals of creating covenants among the students, faculty and the greater Binghamton community.
However, most of his presentation was tailored to the large presence of faculty and staff.
“The faculty will have the freedom to teach and discover, and from that freedom will come a wave of innovation and new knowledge,” Miller said.
In Miller’s view, this idea is under assault and is one of the most important problems that will need to be faced in the next 10 years.
Part of his plans to promote that freedom and retain alumni is to make graduate programs a priority.
“We have to spend money to support graduate students, particularly at the doctoral level,” Miller said. “This actually pays off in measurable ways. If we’re going to grow, let’s grow and maintain.”
To promote scholarship and research, he plans on adding innovations in learning that will include new technology.
“I’m not suggesting an arms race with students for the newest gadgets,” Miller said. “But we have to be in the game … we have to have students that are world-wise and world-connected.”
This connection includes the local community, in which Miller’s plans include economic development, and a greater call for institutions to drive the economy. He explained that this call contains the need to partner with businesses and the local government to add value to commerce and create jobs.
“Binghamton has a chance to really lead,” he said.
In light of recent issues within the athletic department, Miller believes student athletes should have the same performance in the classroom as on the court or field.
“We will not build the reputation of this University on athletics,” he said.
Once the questions began, some of the biggest concerns included Miller’s decision to eliminate physics as a department and degree program from Wichita State University.
According to The Wichita Eagle, a local newspaper, Miller said in April 2010 that the program had to be cut because the number of graduates in previous years could be counted on one hand, and that the cuts were not due to budget reductions.
The idea was met with a lot of criticism from both faculty and students. In a later article in May, it was reported that the faculty senate voted 27 to 3 to recommend to Wichita State President Don Beggs that he not cut the physics program.
This proposal, however, resulted in concern from science and math professors at BU.
Miller chose not to comment on the University’s specific budget decisions, but he did say, “We would figure out what’s precious and preserve that.”
According to Miller, this is one of the most important times for public education. The economy is a large part of that. However, Miller cited the need to rely on what is strong in higher education.
“The elephant in the room in higher education is not the budget, it is the way we deliver education, that’s where all the money is,” Miller said.
He mentioned this “elephant” again later when talking about entrepreneurial spirit when Katharine Krebs, vice provost for international affairs, asked how he would approach that spirit at BU.
“Back to the elephant in the room being the delivery model … that is a place where entrepreneurship needs to be applied,” Miller said.
Miller said he has a lot of experience championing innovative thinkers.
“I think that Binghamton can easily be a leader,” he said.
But perhaps the simplest question of the afternoon still of utmost importance was “Why Binghamton?” asked by Paul Parker, associate vice president for research.
Miller said he liked BU’s interest in research and that the institution “has some direction.”
“Binghamton has that reputation of being a model for other institutions to follow and a lot of potential for growth,” he said. “I want [BU] to set an example of how to do things right.”
Anyone interested in providing feedback on Miller can do so at www2.binghamton.edu/presidential-search/input-and-feedback.html.