Others might balk, but Hamline University President Fayneese Miller is fine with being referred to as “The Prez.”
“It does not bother me. What I do to make current and past members of the community Hamline proud is more important than what I am called.”
She sounds like one of those people with a psychology degree who has her head on straight. A former dean at the University of Vermont, she was also an associate professor of psychology at Brown University, where she was founding chairwoman of Ethnic Studies. I kicked off this Q&A with a question about Minnesota and ethnicity.
Q: You haven’t lived in Minnesota that long, but you already have noticed some hard conversations we’re not having about race?
A: The shootings of black males that occurred in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and around the nation shed light on a series of issues — race, justice, poverty, class, and belongingness — that need statewide and national attention. We cannot hope to change the status quo if we fail to acknowledge and address the issue of race. We do not live in a race-blind society, nor have we ever. However, we can gain a better understanding and appreciation of the lived experiences of “the other” if we acknowledge the problem. Then we can work to address the problem — together, as members of a civil society that is inclusive, sees diversity as an indication of excellence, educates all at a level that is equitable and just, and creates opportunities for growth and participation in the economic, social, and political growth of the state and nation. I fear for the soul of our nation if we do not acknowledge and learn from our past.
Q: What’s going to be your priority? Fundraising, academics, building projects?
A: The three items you list are all important, but I have two main priorities: academics and fundraising — in that order. Fundraising allows us to continually improve our academic offerings, recognize excellence in scholarship and teaching by faculty, and identify opportunities to be innovative in our curriculum. With a focus on academics, you never lose sight of the student.
Q: Have you noticed people getting a look in their eyes that says they want to run away because college presidents are always looking for money?
A: Not yet, but I am sure it is around the corner. Right now, people want to get to know me and I them. If I sense a backing off, I will just have to make sure I drape myself in a “cloak of approachability” so people will always feel comfortable with me whether I am asking for money or simply having a conversation with them.
Q: Your degrees in psychology are sure to come in handy while managing academic egos and people with tenure. But wouldn’t a law degree be useful these days given the problems and complexities of universities?
A: Having a degree in psychology, especially social psychology, does come in handy when dealing with attitudes and behaviors of others. Since I have done work in the legal realm and studied decisionmaking theory with Irv Janis at Yale University, I think I am ready for just about anything!
Q: Have you ever been so hacked off about a TV show that you fired off a letter like the one the president of Hampton University sent to BET CEO Debra Lee [about “The Quad”]?
A: I wish I had time to watch a TV show! So, no, I have not. However, if I find something objectionable or a mischaracterization of what I know and believe about Hamline University, then yes, I would speak out.
Q: Fayneese [pronounced Fay-niece] is a new one for me. How did your parents come up with the name?
A: They were probably tired of having to come up with a name for another baby — I am from a family of seven children and am near the bottom of the pack. I have a sister named Darlise. I think Fayneese is a cool name. A student of mine had twin girls in the mid-80s, and used Fayneese for one’s middle name. I was honored that she thought so highly of me to give her daughter a name she would have to explain all her life!
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Jason Show.”