New Hamline leader makes history

University picks second woman and first Black as president

Dr. Fayneese Miller
Dr. Fayneese Miller

Dr. Fayneese Miller, who has been the dean of the College of Education and Social Services and a professor of leadership and developmental sciences at the University of Vermont for the last 10 years, has been named the 20th president of Hamline University. She is expected to officially take office in historic fashion on July 1, 2015, as the first African American and the second woman president since Hamline University was founded in 1854.

Born and raised in Danville, Virginia, Miller attended undergraduate school at Hampton University. She arrives at Hamline University with 30 years of academic and higher education leadership experience. Prior to her 10-year stint at the University of Vermont, she served on the faculty for 20 years at Brown University as the first coordinator of education studies and the founding chairman of ethnic studies.

Miller is a social psychologist who specializes in the psychosocial development of adolescents, with a focus on socio-political and identity development. She holds a Ph.D. and an MS from Texas Christian University in experimental psychology and a BA in psychology from Hampton University. Miller’s post-doctoral work in applied social psychology was completed at Yale University.

MSR spoke with Dr. Miller (FM) about her historic appointment and her plans for the Hamline University campus.


MSR: Was becoming a university president a long-range goal or dream of yours?

DFM: No, I was very happy as a professor at Brown University. Ruth Simmons, who was the first Black woman to become president of an Ivy League institution, called me into her office and asked me if I knew about this leadership program called the American Council of Education. I did not, so she suggested that I apply and asked if I would be her mentee.

That’s what got me thinking about senior leadership in higher education — it was Dr. Ruth Simmons. Ruth wanted to make sure that she was preparing people to come after her. I had never thought about a presidency before that point, and it was because of Ruth Simmons that I thought about it. She was an incredible role model and she did it.

MSR: What encouraged you to apply for the Hamline University position?

DFM: It was a firm that I had worked with before. I think they were determined to place me somewhere, to be honest with you. They made me aware of several positions their firm was in charge of this year. This one [Hamline] came across my desk; they said you’ve got to take a look at this one. So I did, and the rest is what happened. I liked what I read. I liked what I heard.

MSR: What stood out the most about what you liked and heard?

DFM: I liked the passion and commitment. The people around that table were all committed to Hamline, which was very obvious to me.

MSR: These were the board members and the search committee?

DFM: The search committee. They were all committed to Hamline. I just remember the questions being of the nature that were really digging deep. Trying to get who I am and whether or not I would be the kind of person they would want to see heading Hamline.

I appreciated them and they were very thorough with their questions. I’m the kind of person that, in an interview, what you see is who I am. So if I have concerns and issues, I don’t sugar coat them. I make it very clear about who I am. I’m very upfront about everything. They had to appreciate and respect who I am. Fortunately they did, and I needed to appreciate and respect who they were.

MSR: So your style is the “shoot from the hip” or direct approach, so to speak?

DFM: That’s right, I’m pretty vocal, but my heart is always in the right place. If I commit to something, I commit. I mean, I’m not someone that breezes in and breezes out. I commit and I’m there to do a job.

MSR: Did you get the sense that the committee wanted to put any limitations on your presidency?

DFM: I got the sense that where I wanted to take Hamline is the same place where Hamline wanted to go.

MSR: Tell me where you’re going to take them.

DFM: Clearly there are things that we have to talk about. This was a closed search. The faculty and staff did not meet me until the announcement was made. So some things will not be finalized until I’m on the campus and have a chance to talk with them and hear what’s on their minds.

MSR: What can you tell me?

DFM: I will focus on fiscal health of the institution. Hamline is an important institution to the state. I think it’s important to the country. I think it’s an important global institution… I want to make sure Hamline students are exposed to innovative and progressive faculty.

MSR: You are known as an excellent fundraiser.

DFM: I like raising money. When you do philanthropy, it benefits other people. That’s what I’m really all about.

MSR: What about your commitment to diversity with regard to faculty, staff and curriculum?

DFM: Throughout my career, I have always been committed to diversity. In my department at the University of Vermont, our staff was the most diversified campus-wide. After making a full assessment of the Hamline campus and working from the feedback and input from faculty and staff and students, we’ll develop the best action plan. I cannot say what that is now, but what I can say is there will be some changes.


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