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Richard Miller's 10 years as director of the Poynter Center

Richard Miller is completing 10 years as Poynter Center director and will be returning to full-time research and teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences in July. During the decade of his leadership, the Poynter Center has created new programs, secured new grant funding for the center, catalyzed new interdisciplinary research and hosted numerous seminars, workshops and special events for the university and Bloomington community.

Miller began his tenure as director by creating the Poynter Center Interdisciplinary Faculty Seminar for faculty research and enrichment. Over the four years of the program, the center's interdisciplinary fellows studied "Democracy and Dissent" in 2003-04, "The Ethics and Politics of Childhood" in 2004-05, "Nature in the Scientific and Moral Imagination" in 2005-06 and "Memory: Ethics, Politics, Aesthetics" in 2006-07. In all, 23 faculty participated in the program; the seminar served as a model for subsequent seminars and programs at the center.

In addition to catalyzing research in these seminars, in 2006 Miller co-wrote a Poynter Center White Paper with Robert Crouch and Lisa Sideris, "Intelligent Design, Science Education, and Public Reason," in response to IU Bloomington faculty concerns about the role of religion and the culture wars in science education.

Richard Miller

Richard Miller

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Recognizing the challenges that ever-changing technology presents to the modern world, the Poynter Center developed programs to address ethical questions generated by advanced surveillance technology. In 2006-07, the Poynter Center held four half-day workshops supported by a New Frontiers grant from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research on "Privacy in Public: Ethics, Privacy, and the Technology of Public Surveillance." With Miller's encouragement, Poynter Center staff member Kenneth Pimple moved from that topic to "Ethical Guidance for Research and Application of Pervasive and Autonomous Information Technology," a National Science Foundation-funded program, in 2009-10.

Miller has encouraged the use of the Internet to share resources, including collaborating with other universities in 2007-08 on a project called EthicShare, and working with the University of Illinois and other universities from 2010 to present on the National Center for Research and Professional Ethics. Miller also encouraged the growth of the Poynter Center website to include free access to the monographs the Poynter Center has published.

One of Miller's goals has been to involve more IU faculty in the life of the Poynter Center. He collaborated with professor John Bodnar, then director of the Institute for Advanced Study, to host a yearlong faculty seminar on empathy. That seminar was a catalyst for the grant-funded initiative, supported by the University of Chicago/John Templeton Foundation program, on "Virtuous Empathy: Scientific and Humanistic Investigations," 2010-12, for which Miller was the principal investigator.

Another goal was to increase programs and outreach. The Poynter Center created the Undergraduate Research Prize program in 2005 to honor IU undergraduates who were doing research and writing in practical ethics. Since then, 22 students have been honored. In addition, the Poynter Center has continued to sponsor an undergraduate Ethics Bowl team each year. Over the decade, the teams have won two regional championships and two national championships. Ethics Bowl "alums" have gone on to Yale, Duke, the London School of Economics, Oxford University, University of California-Berkeley, IU and Teach for America.

In 2008, Miller created the Poynter Center Roundtable to provide a venue for faculty to disseminate their research and learn more about each other's work. Roundtable presenters have included, among others, professors Scott Sanders on environmental responsibility, Susan Gubar on gender and medicine, Jeff Wolin on cross-cultural representations of war, Khalil Muhammad on race and criminalization in the United States, and John Lucaites on visual rhetoric and American public culture.

In 2012, the first of the Poynter Center non-stipendiary fellows arrived to do research at IU. This year the Poynter Center will be offering four inaugural Jesse Fine Fellowships for teaching in practical and professional ethics, providing funding from a gift bequeathed by Dorothy Fine, a longtime friend of IU, in honor of her husband, IU alumnus Jesse Fine.

While leading the Poynter Center, Miller taught in the Department of Religious Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences and chaired or served on a number of committees throughout the university. Nominated by two Ethics Bowl students, he received the James P. Holland Award for Exemplary Teaching and Service to Students in 2007. In 2012, he was named a Provost Professor and the recipient of the Tracy M. Sonneborn Award.

The Poynter Center continued other long-standing programs, including the Teaching Research Ethics Workshop, Healthcare Ethics seminars and the Matthew Vandivier Sims Memorial Lecture. The Sims Lecture brought distinguished bioethicists to IU from 2002 to 2011, including Ron Green from Dartmouth, Margaret Mohrmann from the University of Virginia, Rebecca Dresser from Washington University (and the President's Council on Bioethics) and John Lantos from the University of Kansas Medical Center, for public presentations and interactions with IU Wells Scholars.

During Miller's tenure as director, the Poynter Center celebrated its 40th anniversary Oct. 10 to 12, 2012, with a symposium, "Humanitarianism and Human Rights in the 21st Century." The symposium explored new and recurrent challenges posed to human rights and humanitarian efforts by 21st-century conflicts and changes in the political landscape. The three keynote speakers were David Alan Crocker, senior research scholar at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland; Diane Orentlicher, professor of international law at American University; and Sumner B. Twiss, distinguished professor of human rights, ethics and religion in the Department of Religion and the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University.

Throughout Miller's tenure, the Poynter Center expanded its intellectual reach and range of interdisciplinary initiatives. Recent visitors to the center have included philosopher Nancy Fraser, writer Tim O'Brien and filmmaker Werner Herzog.

Miller will be on research sabbatical in 2013-14 and will return to his home Department of Religious Studies in 2014-15. Vice Provost for Research Sarita Soni will be announcing a new director for the Poynter Center effective July 1.