Gerald R. Miller: A Colleague's View

By Bettinghaus, Erwin P. | Communication Studies, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Gerald R. Miller: A Colleague's View

Bettinghaus, Erwin P., Communication Studies

Gerald R. Miller came to Michigan State University in 1962. He had finished his doctorate at the University of Iowa in 1961, and held his first position as an Assistant Professor of Speech at the University of Washington for just one year before making the move to East Lansing. He spent the rest of his distinguished career at Michigan State, moving up the ranks (Associate Professor, 1966, Professor, 1969, Distinguished University Professor, 1990) and establishing himself as one of the most influential scholars of his generation.

Miller came to East Lansing at a very exciting time. Michigan State University had established the nation's first College of Communication Arts in 1955. Miller's appointment was in the Department of General Communication Arts, a department founded in 1958, with David K. Berlo as its first Chairperson. The department was small, but it included many of the scholars who were to help define the discipline in the years ahead. Hideya Kumata studied communication from a sociological and intercultural perspective. Paul Deutschman was an editor at the Denver Post before heading off to Stanford for a Ph.D. Malcolm MacLean Jr. looked at our field from a mass media perspective acquired at Wisconsin. Vernon "Pete" Troldahl came from journalism and mass communication at Minnesota. Erv Bettinghaus arrived from Illinois in 1958, just before completing his degree in rhetoric and public address. Within a few years after Gerry Miller arrived the department was to change its name to the Department of Communication, and its faculty was to be enhanced by the addition of Bradley Greenberg in 1964 and Everett Rogers in 1966.

Before Gerry arrived, Bettinghaus was the only faculty member in the department with a degree in Speech, although Berlo had taken speech in his undergraduate days, and Michigan State still had a large Department of Speech which included faculty like Kenneth Hance, David Ralph, Gordon Thomas, James McCroskey, Huber Ellingsworth, and Murray Hewgill. The faculty in Communication strongly believed that they were in the process of defining a new academic discipline. The questions being raised by faculty and students were basic: What is Communication? How do we define it? What is the best way to study Communication?

Miller's participation in the departmental debates over the nature of communication study was different than that of others. Most of the department's faculty had a single position, from which they argued against positions taken by others. From the time he came to Michigan State, Gerry Miller was consistent in his personal beliefs about the best way to define and study communication, nevertheless, he was never heard to condemn scholarly approaches other than his own. His consistency did not mean that he would not criticize poorly done research. He did so, however, without casting personal aspersions on the beliefs or research methods of others. But I think it likely that he always regarded the concerns about the nature of communication research and study to be rather unimportant. For him, to do and publish good research was important, and the potential building of a discipline far less interesting.

Everyone who knew and worked with Gerry Miller has their own favorite story or incident. No single paper can possibly cover all of the things that made him an enduring figure in our field. Thus, this paper will look at just three areas that made working with Miller a colleagues delight: (1) Gerald R. Miller was a highly productive scholar through his entire career; (2) He believed strongly in collegiality; and (3) Gerry had a consistent academic focus throughout his career.


The official vita that Gerald Miller used for his official University records, and that he sent to publishers and others making inquiries is fifteen pages long, and an unusual document. He does the usual in listing his educational background, university appointments, teaching areas, number of MA theses chaired (24), number of Ph. …

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