You might not know his name, but chances are Walter Miller’s career, and the decisions he’s made throughout that career, affected your life at the University of New Mexico.
Now, the vice president of Student Life and 25-year UNM administrator for is set to retire. For Miller, that means sticking around UNM, finishing one last looming project and hitting a few shows a Popejoy from time-to-time.
It’s difficult to quantify a person’s accomplishments, but one place to start is money. In his time at UNM, Miller oversaw a massive overhaul of the Student Union Building that priced out at $25 million. Unlike similar buildings across the country, UNM’s SUB was funded with student fees, according to Miller.
“The previous model was kind of a layer cake and you never knew what was above or below. It was just a dated design and, you know, it served its time well, but things had changed,” Miller said.
The $25-million overhaul wrapped up in 2003, completing the SUB that students, staff and faculty use today. Miller said the SUB’s ability to connect students to resources and each other was a point of pride.
“Even though you’ve built it and you’ve remodeled it you have to prepare for the next phase of expansion and upgrades and that's the challenge within the University,” Miller said.
One instrumental part of his time at UNM was implementing student-input and engagement.
On the one hand, Miller’s said his office employes around 70 students. The SUB also houses the two student government offices of the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) and Associated Students of UNM (ASUNM). Those two offices are located next to the Student Activities Center, which co-hosts some of the biggest student events on campus such as Fiestas and Red Rally.
On the other hand, Miller’s SUB is governed in part by a board that consists of students, primarily gathered from ASUNM and GPSA.
Miller’s belief in the value of student’s input is something he takes as self-evident. He told the Daily Lobo it is was “because of my higher education experience, that’s what it’s all about.” Miller chuckled after saying that.
That’s been a consistent theme since1968 when Miller served as William Paterson University’s student body President. In a letter Miller wrote to The Beacon, William Paterson University's student paper, Miller said:
“The students have spoken and no faculty or administrator is going to change it. Now, where does Mr. Nack or anyone except a student of (Professional Sales Club) get the audacity to question a student-run referendum? It is about time the faculty and administration kept their noses out of where they do not belong. If my memory holds correct this is a Student Government Association. If Mr. Nack did not like the results that is his problem, not the SGA,” Miller wrote in Oct., 1968.
Lot’s of student’s move through student government to work in a university's administrative structure. Miller said he wasn’t one of them.
“I didn't have a long targeted goal. I did have the opportunity to work with some fantastic people that allowed me to grow,” Miller said. “Some of those contacts still exist today.”
But he did give those students one piece of advice.
“The opportunity to start in the field (of public administration of a university) is not where one wants to start. But you have to do some on-the-job skill-building to really set your feet for your long term future. And I would say, especially in the student affairs arena, it’s not an eight-to-five, nine-to-five, whatever you want to call it, type of work. Especially when we’re in session, it is pretty much the whole day and seven days a week. You just never know,” Miller said.
Justin Garcia is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @Just516garc.