An Interview with Dean Miller of the College of Education and Social Services

Fayneese Miller, Ph.D., the new dean of the College of Education and Social Services, comes to UVM after twenty years at Brown University as a professor of education and human development and the director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. She has also done extensive research on race and ethnicity as it effects adolescents in education. Last Friday The Cynic sat down with Dean Miller and these are the answers she gave to the our questions:What appealed to you about Vermont after 20 years at Brown University? What appealed to me was the quality of the programs that were offered in the College of Education and Social Services. In many ways, the logical move in my career was to leave Brown and come to Vermont. Brown University and UVM are more similar than they are different. It’s just that the College of Education and Social Services at Vermont is bigger so it meant that I was moving from a small entity to a larger entity but with the same values, the same mission, the same expectations of the students.About one third of the school teachers and school administrators in the state of Vermont go through UVM. What do you think that the program’s responsibility is to Vermont? The fact that one third of the teachers and the superintendents and the principles go though our program means that we already have a responsibility. We are doing it already. If you are talking about something that is much grander than what it is we do, we have a tremendous number of outreach programs. Look at social work and social justice. I have a faculty member that is actively involved in the refugee community.What do you think are some of the major issues that Vermont education faces? I think one of the major issues is to make sure we are addressing all the needs of kids who live in poverty. In terms of the state of Vermont, that means making sure that all the kids are exposed to a high level of education.The other thing that I would say is a major challenge, not only for the state of Vermont, but for education in general, is how to make sure that our young people are ready to live in a diverse society, and a society where we are no longer just the United States, but a society that connects with many other countries. The other is how do we as educators make sure that we are technologically literate enough to ensure that our students are technologically literate.Do you thing that those same interactions apply to college age students? Yes. One of the things I have found [in my research] is that in high school, young people are friends until college acceptance letters come. Then let’s say that you are white and your friend is of color, and they get into Brown or UVM and you don’t. What tends to happen is that the friendship gets pushed in a way that makes them uncomfortable because the white friend sometimes makes the assumption that the friend of color got in only because they were a person of color. Once they get to the college level, those questions and issues go away because when they are in the classroom together, and they realize that they all got there because they were good and because they were the right students for that institution. I think that what happens with college students is that the friendships that they make in college across these racial and ethnic lines are usually long term friendships.You’ve taught at Brown, the University of Southern Florida, the University of Rhode Island as well as the University of Cape Town in South Africa; do you think that the issues of race and ethnicity differ between these locations and differ from Burlington? The South Africa experience was very different, because even though apartheid was no longer in existence, they really were not comfortable with each other yet, so you found very few people interacting across racial lines. My major academic experience and teaching experience has been at Brown University. I have had students come from every racial and ethnic background you can possible imagine, as well as every class background and sexual orientation and gender. At UVM, that is no different.Do you feel that you have to prepare the students in CESS for specific racial issues that Vermont faces if they are going to teach or work in Vermont? I think that all students, whether they are going to teach, or work in the business world, need to be exposed to people who are different. I don’t think that teachers have any more obligation to learn about people who are different than people who are going to be attorneys or people that will work in business. I think it is something that everyone needs to be exposed to. What is interesting about various professions is that people who are in social work, education, and fields that deal with children and youth are held accountable for how children or how families do in ways that people in other professions are never held accountable.Do you foresee any collaboration between the ALANA department and CESS in the future? I am sure we will have collaboration. I foresee significant collaboration with the other deans and the other colleges, because I would like to see us do more interdisciplinary work. I consider myself to be a member of that community. Do I see CESS doing something more than any other college would do? No. Do I see all of us recognizing the values and the strengths that those students bring to the table? Absolutely. Do I want more of those students in my college? You bet I do.Has there been a significant increase in the number of students in CESS this fall, and how is the college handling that? We have an increase. We are increasing our faculty at the same time our student body increases. As the new dean, I immediately made a hire in July. We have full searches underway to add to our faculty. We are going to make sure we have enough faculty to address the incoming students as well as the students that are already here, because we certainly don’t want to somehow privilege one group over another, because our students that are here have shown that they are committed to our college. Although Dean Miller is new to UVM, she already has plans to improve the College of Education and Social Services with the hiring of new professors and with increased outreach. Dean Miller looks forward to collaboration with other deans and colleges within UVM to increase interdisciplinary studies. Dean Miller also hopes to help the CESS faculty as much as possible in contributing their research on education and social services at the national and global level.