By Sue Wuetcher, reprinted from UB Now
Teresa A. Miller, a longtime UB faculty member and SUNY’s senior vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and chief diversity officer for the past three years, died Aug. 6 after battling cancer. She was 59.
Before joining the SUNY leadership team, Miller served as UB’s inaugural vice provost for inclusive excellence, leading the university’s efforts to build a culture of equity, diversity and inclusiveness, and continuing a commitment to equity and social justice that was evident during a 26-year career as a professor in the School of Law.
“Compassionate and extraordinarily dedicated to her work, Teri upheld and promoted UB’s most cherished values by helping cultivate a culture of mutual respect and equitable treatment of our diverse community of faculty, students and staff,” said President Satish K. Tripathi.
“As we continue to advance ideals of inclusiveness and social justice at UB, we recognize that much of what we do builds on Teri’s efforts to create transformative change. In elevating diverse viewpoints and backgrounds, Teri has left an impactful legacy — not only at UB, but across the SUNY system — and she will be fondly remembered by all of us who were fortunate to know her.”
“Professor Teri Miller was deeply committed to and a nationally recognized leader on issues of equity and inclusion,” said A. Scott Weber, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
“On a personal level, Teri was warm and welcoming, always willing to share her significant expertise with others,” Weber said. “The UB community feels a profound sadness on her passing and we send our deepest sympathies to her family and friends.”
Rebecca French, Miller’s colleague at the law school, called her friend “just an exceptional human being.”
“She was warm, generous and kind, with an incisive — and at times ironic — wit paired with an infectious laugh. She was not your average academic, and many people considered her a best friend,” French said.
“On top of that, she had this brilliant mind — Duke and Harvard Law! And Teri loved to create and innovate. Whether it was designing diversity initiatives for the university that included programs like DIFCON (Difficult Conversations) and PRODiG, and implementing international Thanksgiving for foreign students, or declaring medium blue and chocolate brown to be the colors for the year, and preparing elaborate breakfast feasts of chicken and waffles, Teri, judiciously — but persistently — brought people together and moved projects through the system.”
French noted that above all, Miller nurtured and loved her children, Seychelle, Miles and Croix, “constantly encouraging them to be good human beings, aware of social justice issues and proud of themselves.”
“It is hard to imagine a better, more wonderful person,” she said. “I know that I, and everyone who knew her, feels a great loss. She made an enormous difference in the world.”
In her role as UB’s vice provost for inclusive excellence, Miller built the Office of Inclusive Excellence and created UB’s first strategic diversity and inclusion plan.
She also developed the Difficult Conversations (DIFCON) series designed to bring faculty, staff and students together for constructive conversations about provocative issues in order to gain better understanding of the issues and different points of view, and championed the diversity learning requirement in the UB Curriculum.
Miller was promoted into a similar role at SUNY, tasked with setting the goals and expectations for diversity and inclusion across the system and its campuses. She also led the PRODiG (Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Growth) initiative, which is designed to increase diversity in the faculty ranks and guide campus hiring.
Miller received the State University of New York Council for University Advancement Educational Achievement Award in 2018.
“Teri has been a steadfast leader at SUNY for over a two decades, building more awareness to the needs of our underrepresented students and creating a robust environment across the system that encompasses goals of excellence, equity and inclusion,” SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras and Board of Trustees Chair Merryl Tisch wrote in a note to campus presidents informing them of Miller’s death. “Her dedication has notably expanded diversity among faculty ranks and driven new opportunities that have improved recruitment for a more inclusive and diverse workforce.
“Her legacy at SUNY is lasting.”
Miller joined the faculty of the UB School of Law in 1995, specializing in immigration law, criminal procedure and prisoner law. She made several documentary films about the Attica Correctional Facility, including “Encountering Attica,” a documentary film that chronicled a year of meetings between a group of first-year UB law students and Attica inmates, and “Attica: The Bars That Bind Us,” which depicted the “human costs” of life in a large men’s maximum security prison through the voices of prisoners and their family members, the warden, correctional officers and others.
She organized the conference “40 years after the Attica Uprising: Looking back, Moving Forward,” and traveled throughout New York State evaluating conditions at state prisons on behalf of the Correctional Association of New York.
She also was a member of the American Bar Association task force that re-wrote the “Standards on the Legal Status of Prisoners” in 2010.
“Throughout her career and her life, Teri’s unyielding commitment to promoting equity and justice has been inspirational,” said UB law school Dean Aviva Abramovsky. “We are fortunate that she shared that passion with us. We will carry her legacy forward as we continue to fight for a more just society.”
A native of Fort Benning, Ga., Miller grew up in the Tidewater region of Virginia and in Chapel Hill, N.C. She earned a BA from Duke University as an Angier B. Duke Scholar, and received a JD from Harvard Law School and a LLM from the University of Wisconsin at Madison as a William H. Hastie Fellow.
Before joining the UB law faculty, she taught at the University of Miami School of Law and worked as a judicial law clerk at the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida.