Though often choosing presidents from outside the school, Northwestern called upon one of its own as J. Roscoe Miller, its twelfth president, led the university through times of turbulence and expansion over more than thirty years of leadership.
Born in Murray, Utah in 1905, James Roscoe "Rocky" Miller completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah before arriving at Northwestern to study medicine, earning a Bachelor of Medicine in 1929, M.D. in 1930, and an M.S. in 1931. After two years spent researching cardiology on a Montgomery Ward fellowship, Miller returned to Northwestern, joining the faculty of the Medical School as a teacher and assistant dean while maintaining a private practice and reputation as one of Chicago's leading heart specialists. In 1941 he was appointed dean of the medical school and oversaw plans for development of the medical center on the school's Chicago campus.
During World War II, Miller took leave from his duties as dean and served as head of the medical branch, professional division, of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington, D. C., achieving the rank of Commander in the Naval Reserve.
In 1949, following the retirement of Franklyn Bliss Snyder, Miller was selected president of Northwestern, only the second alumnus chosen for the position. Taking this role, he finally gave up his medical practice, but retained his rank as a professor of medicine. Miller's term was marked by great expansion of the University. Northwestern's centennial was approaching soon after his inauguration and he undertook a successful fundraising campaign, greatly exceeding its goal of $8.25 million. The success of Miller's fundraising allowed the University to create new endowments for student aid and to grow quickly during his presidency, including the construction of thirty-five new buildings and increases in faculty salaries and size. Northwestern grew outwards, too, purchasing over 150 acres of Lake Michigan to fill in and create new land for the rapidly expanding school. The 74-acre J. Roscoe Miller lakefill campus (see audio recording of dedication at link) was dedicated October 7, 1964, the fifteenth anniversary of Miller's inauguration.
Miller's presidency also saw the turbulent protests of the late 1960s. While he was forced to contend with groups of activist students looking to take issues to him directly, he avoided the extreme conflicts that arose at many other schools. Though Miller was personally conservative, he defended the right of faculty members to hold whatever political positions they wished during this time as well.
Miller retired from the presidency in 1969, but continued serving Northwestern as Chancellor and remained in that position for five years, fundraising and planning University development. He died of a heart attack in 1977, age 71. In addition to his career with Northwestern, Miller also sat on the boards of Sears Roebuck & Co., Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, and the American Hospital Supply Corp., and was a trustee of the Field Museum.
Concerning the dynamic times the university experienced during his leadership, he said, "Only when men cease to seek and find new truths, and civilization becomes static, will there be no transition. And then of course there will be no universities either."
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