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Moving Beyond The Classroom

Randall M. Miller, PhD, firmly believes that education cannot happen in a vacuum. A new fund that he has endowed in his name will allow faculty and students to enrich themselves more holistically by traveling beyond the confines of their formal learning environments and out into the community.

SJU professor Randall Miller, PhD, stands in the Barbelin Hall courtyard. Randall M. Miller, PhD, has high hopes for his newly endowed fund.

Written by: A.J. Litchfield

Published: June 6, 2023

Total reading time: 4 minutes

Randall M. Miller, PhD, professor emeritus of history, has dedicated 48 years of his life to Saint Joseph’s University. Miller has forged a sterling reputation as a scholar, a political commentator and an educator. His commitment to providing a thoughtful and immersive experience in the classroom has earned him the respect and admiration of his colleagues and legions of students. You’d be forgiven for thinking that after more than four decades of service, Miller has given all he can to the crimson and gray; but you’d also be wrong.

When Miller started teaching as an assistant professor of history at Saint Joseph’s in 1972, it became immediately apparent that the confines of a formal learning environment would not adequately serve his students. He was determined to show them the importance of transcending their classrooms and venturing out into the world for knowledge. Philadelphia was the perfect place to fully employ this methodology.

“History is more than just in books and it's more than two-dimensional. It's in the housing. It's in the landscaping. It's in the people and how they move around. It's even in the plumbing,” Miller says. “Philadelphia is almost unsurpassed in what it can offer.”

While speaking of the educational benefits of SJU’s proximity to Philadelphia, Miller exudes a palpable reverence for the city. As a true educator in the Jesuit tradition, this is a main tenet of Miller’s educational philosophy.

“I've always believed that universities have an obligation, not just to their students, but to their communities,” Miller says.

Universities, he explains, engage in creating knowledge. But that fact is inconsequential unless a follow-up question can be answered: what do you do with that knowledge once you’ve created it? How does knowledge translate to community betterment and societal improvement?

Miller would be the first to tell you that universities have, at times, struggled to provide an adequate response to this line of questioning.

“There are serious doubts as to whether universities have much utility at all,” Miller says.

But he’s not buying into the skepticism. It is no secret that today’s society is fraught with challenges. In Miller’s opinion, universities play an integral role in preparing students to address these challenges within their communities.

“At a university, you don't just learn stuff in terms of information. You learn how, and you learn why,” Miller explains. “You learn to ask the right questions. How did it happen? Why did it happen? What are the impacts?”

Miller goes even further to say that professors have a responsibility to create environments where this process thrives.

“Learning is a dynamic, reciprocal, process between student and professor and it's always ongoing,” Miller says. “The scholar is the teacher, and the teacher is the scholar and the way you do that is through engagement and constantly bringing new knowledge to the classroom.”

Enter the Randall M. Miller, PhD, Fund for Faculty Grants.

Through a $250,000 gift to SOAR: the campaign for Saint Joseph’s, Miller has endowed this newly created fund which will allow SJU to further its dedication to academic excellence while simultaneously preparing students for a rapidly changing world.

Lofty goals, to be sure. So how exactly will it work?

Miller’s gift will help faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences by distributing grants of up to $2,500 individually.

“This funding will allow faculty to engage in original work,” says Miller. “And original work could be anything. It could be a musical composition, a work of art, a book project — anything.”

Through this work, faculty members will also be engaging with peers in their respective fields.

“They’ll be able to interface, create connections and have informed discussions about what they're working on.”

But Miller envisions the fund having its largest impact in how it translates to students.

“The faculty are going to bring what they learn back to the classroom,” says Miller. This intersection between the outside world and the formal learning environment is another foundational pillar of his philosophy as an educator. Education does not happen in a vacuum.

To Miller, it's simple. “The best teachers are those who are using their scholarship.”

By providing a mechanism for faculty to pursue original work, they will further their own understanding of their given fields, which will uniquely position them to further prepare Saint Joseph’s students to positively impact their communities.

With this fund, Miller hopes to foster a generation of students who all believe in what he holds most dear:

“Learning is not just for something of self-absorption, it must have benefits beyond ourselves.”

Do you want to support the Randall M. Miller, PhD, Fund for Faculty Grants? You can do so by making a gift to the fund today.