Update: April 2, 2018 at 2:37 a.m.
As long-time student affairs administrator Tim Miller prepares to step down from his post after 16 years at GW, he leaves a legacy as an adviser to student advocates.
Miller, the associate dean of students, announced last week that he will leave the University June 1 to serve as the vice president of student affairs at James Madison University, where he is a double alumnus. During his tenure, Miller said he served as a bridge to other officials and departments for student leaders hoping to enact campus reforms.
Miller has served as the associate dean of students since 2011, where he had oversight over Greek life, student organizations and the residence hall experience as the leader of the Center for Student Engagement. Before that, he held administrative roles in the former Student Activities Center.
“Just because there’s change and just because I’m leaving doesn’t mean we slow down, doesn’t mean we pause and see what’s going to happen.”
Student life at GW has changed dramatically since he started in 2002 as the University has transformed from a commuter-heavy school to a residential campus and the number of student organizations has soared from about 100 to nearly 500, he said. But after 16 years, he said he couldn’t pass up a dream job at JMU.
“When you see the thing you want to do most in your life, you do it,” Miller said of his move to JMU. “Being able to go back to my alma mater has been a dream for me for about 22 years, so to be able to do that is why I’m making this change.”
He is the fifth student affairs official to step down since University President Thomas LeBlanc began his tenure at the beginning of the academic year, but Miller said his departure is unrelated to changes at GW.
“After 16 years here, I look back and there aren’t that many people here from when I started,” Miller said. “And transition is constant, not just in student affairs, not just in universities. I don’t think I would ever describe one period as a transition period because everything is a transition period.”
Miller said his successor will need to continue the focus in improving student life and pay particular attention to issues like mental health services and food insecurity, but that search hasn’t launched yet.
“The team needs to keep moving. Just because there’s change and just because I’m leaving doesn’t mean we slow down, doesn’t mean we pause and see what’s going to happen,” he said in an interview.
During his tenure, Miller pushed changes in the LGBTQ community by adding a resource center and collaborating with student organization leaders to address widespread concerns of food insecurity among students. He became a key partner and vocal proponent of The Store, a student-led food pantry that opened in 2016.
But Miller’s position in student affairs occasionally led to tense relationship with students. Several students called on him to step down for mishandling a student hearing in the middle of a Student Association election scandal last spring. He also faced heavy criticism from students for a lack of transparency about investigations into Greek life misconduct over the last several years.
“When we face a challenge for the first time, you’re not always going to hit it out of the park,” Miller said. “I believe I’m a better person for those moments and I hope that others feel the same way about themselves.”
SA President Peak Sen Chua said Miller’s presence at GW, which spanned three University presidents, brought deep institutional knowledge to the students he advised. Miller served as adviser to the SA for about 13 of his 16 years at GW with his final stint ending last May.
“What it also allows the University to do is take a fresh look, as part of the reorganization to the enrollment and student experience division, about what direction student affairs goes on from here,” Chua said.
In the summer, the University will merge its enrollment and student affairs divisions into one department as part of an overall effort to improve student satisfaction.
“I’m sad to see him go, but at the same time I think this is a really great opportunity for him.”
Thomas Falcigno, an alumnus and the former SA executive vice president, said Miller’s service to the SA as an adviser, alongside Anne Graham, the assistant director of student involvement, allowed him to roll out projects, like the newly implemented first-year forgiveness policy.
“I’m super grateful for him, not only as an adviser but as a mentor, throughout my time at GW,” Falcigno said. “I’m sad to see him go, but at the same time I think this is a really great opportunity for him.”
Saru Duckworth, the president of The Store, said she learned management skills from Miller’s guidance, which leaves her and other student leaders with the tools to carry out and expand projects, including turning The Store into its own non-profit organization.
“He’s been a go-to person for so many years for students who didn’t know where else to go to be heard,” she said. “His ability to listen, even if he’s going to ask the tough questions about how is this going to get done – I think that’s been a major strength and impact on the University.”
Andrew Goudsward, Dani Grace, Cayla Harris and Meredith Roaten contributed reporting.