On National Coming Out Day in 2000, UT’s Spartan Gay and Straight Alliance gathered homophobic graffiti from around campus and transposed it onto a banner on Plant’s Verandah.
After speeches against hate and homophobia, the banner was crumpled up. A Moroccan photo from the event shows the new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences stepping forward to light the hate-filled banner on fire.
The dean was Wayne Miller, who died last week, and colleagues say fighting for change and working for the good of humanity is only one of many admirable things Miller will be remembered for.
“Wayne was a master at, and took great delight, in bringing people together,” said Fred Pearce, a longtime friend and collaborator who worked with Miller on a health and technology project in Alaska.
“He saw the power of technology to improve the human condition. He was a curious electronic Luddite with a clear vision of the power of technology to transform the delivery of healthcare, especially to rural people and the poor.”
“The best I can do is remember how he was a wonderfully giving, thoughtful, intelligent and complex human being, who had an uncanny ability to see into others,” said Stephen Kucera, a good friend of Miller’s and interim dean of College of Natural and Health Sciences.
Miller, who worked at UT for almost a decade, was found dead Thursday in his home on Castleford Way in Tampa’s Westchase neighborhood. He reportedly died in his sleep.
Students quickly formed two memorial Facebook groups, and colleagues exchanged words of disbelief and comfort outside his Plant Hall office–professors and students alike remembering the former dean as a kind, funny and relaxed teacher.
“Wayne was a genuine and complex person–with a darn good sense of humor about the world gusting around us every day,” wrote Audrey Colombe, assistant professor of English and writing. “I could always count on a laugh with Wayne.”
Students also enjoyed his wit.
“Professor Miller was the kind of teacher who could always make his students laugh,” said Victor O’Brien, UT alumnus and Miller’s former advisee. “He was always willing to share humorous stories about his life experiences, and for that, I think students genuinely appreciated him as a teacher and a person.”
Professors like Judy Hayden and Martha Serpas said that Miller was always giving and supportive of younger colleagues.
“He was a generous, gregarious man, and had spirited conversations and meals with a good number of UT folks on a regular basis,” said Serpas, who later borrowed the words of one of Miller’s favorite authors, Henry James:
“Three things in human life are important,” James said. “The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”
Miller and Serpas were hired in the late nineties. He was the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences when she was hired in 1999.
“I admired his paramount support of the teaching and research of my colleagues and me,” she said.
He was also a strong supporter of the humanities, both at UT and in the community.
“He took seriously his role as a citizen of this city and the human community beyond,” Serpas wrote. “Wayne was quick to remind us, with humor and generosity, of the larger pursuits of education and the joys of literature and art.”
Judy Hayden, English and writing professor, said Miller will be missed on UT’s faculty.
“Wayne was a generous and compassionate colleague and friend,” Hayden said. “Wayne clearly loved teaching and was never short of praise for UT students.”
This point was reiterated again and again by former students, many of whom said Miller was inspirational.
“This man is amazing!” said one student on the Web site ratemyprofessor.com. “Just an overall great guy and professor. You’ll learn a lot and have fun while doing it. He’s concerned with student progress and will always be willing to help you out!”
Suzanne Wolmers, another student who was in his class wrote on a memorial Facebook page, “He was the only reason why I willingly signed up for a class at 8 in the morning.”
Another impressed student remembered how worldly Miller was.
“Incredible professor!” she wrote. “He has published multiple books and has lived all around the globe. He’s extremely well rounded and well cultured. He has a genuine care for his students and their progress. One of the nicest professors I’ve ever had.”
Aside from being a good teacher, Miller was a well respected researcher.
“He was proud of his scholarly and administrative accomplishments-which were many-and that spirit enabled many of us to be proud of ourselves,” said Serpas.
Miller specialized in American military, fiction and film, and was at his death working on a sequel to his first book, “An Armed America: Its Face in Fiction-a History of the American Military Novel.”
Colonel Jesse Gatlin Jr., an English professor at the Air Force Academy, reviewed Miller’s book soon after it was published.
“Professor Miller has performed a service by raising serious questions about the function and influence of fictional literature in our society,” Gatlin wrote. “He has charted a pathway that is essentially Platonic in its assumption that fiction is and should be primarily a utilitarian means of social and political comment.”
Miller also explored the field of ethnic literature, having published “A Gathering of Ghetto Writers: Irish, Italian, Jewish, Black and Puerto Rican.”
Miller started at the University of Tampa in 1999 as the dean of former College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
In 2000, he continued at UT as a tenured professor of English.
He taught courses in American Literature, Ethnic Cultures, and Comparative Literature.
“Wayne honored the validity of human endeavor–and we’ve been lucky to learn from him,” said Audrey Colombe.
Miller graduated from St. John’s, Columbia, and New York universities.
When he came to UT he brought with him a zealous personality that showed in faculty meetings.
“One of the things I truly admired about Wayne was that he was always considerate about another person’s point of view. He valued looking at an idea or a proposal from a number of perspectives,” said Hayden.
He was also described as nuanced and gracious.
“If he disagreed with someone’s opinion, he would disagree graciously-not pointing out where that person was wrong, but rather, he would propose thoughtfully what else that person might want to take into consideration,” said Hayden. “In an age when people want, or even expect, to see things in black and white, ‘my way or the highway’ so to speak, Wayne was a refreshing splash of tints and shades.”
Anne Stockdell-Giesler, professor of English, agreed.
“Wayne’s willingness to really explore issues always impressed me– you couldn’t expect him to just fall on one ‘side’ or another–he had his own ideas through careful consideration and expressed them thoughtfully,” she said.
She also said she will not forget how Miller often spoke passionately to the department, “Nor will I forget my inner cheerleader nodding and saying, ‘Yes! Yes!’ I’ll miss his dedication to the department.”
Other English and writing colleagues, like Serpas, concurred.
“Wayne was a kind soul, and I will miss him.”
Shortly before press time Tuesday evening, Miller’s daughter, Alison Miller, posted a comment on The Minaret’s website.
“Dr. Wayne Miller was my father. The passing of our father was a big shock for us,” she said. “It pleases us to hear about all the admiration his students and fellow faculty members had for him. It helps us in dealing with our grief.”