Honoring a compassionate mentor
On Keith Miller’s retirement
Hello, y’all, I’m Cindy Tekobbe. I’m currently an assistant professor of rhetoric at the University of Alabama, and I will be an assistant professor in critical feminist science and technology at the University of Illinois Chicago starting in the fall. I offer this information here because I am grateful to have had compelling career opportunities, and for them, I credit the faculty of ASU’s writing, rhetorics and literacies graduate program, and especially the exceptional mentoring and supervision of Keith Miller. A pillar in the department, Miller was on my master’s committee and directed my dissertation, but more importantly he has been and continues to be my valued mentor and friend.
Miller is a prolific scholar as author or editor of seven books, as well as countless articles, essays, public talks, conference presentations, lectures, and media interviews. His wide range of work challenges us to confront white supremacy, to demand justice and equity, and to ally with historically excluded and erased peoples. For almost 40 years, 35 of those at ASU, Miller has taught his students the craft of careful, attentive, and critical scholarship with an emphasis on public engagement. Today, as I give invited talks of my own, I rely on the gifts that Miller shared with all of us—his passion for social justice and his boundless compassion for people.
In terms of that compassion, early in my time as a graduate student, the first time I submitted to Miller a draft for his feedback, he emailed me requesting I come to his office. I was writing about feminism and internet technologies, and I was pretty worried about being summoned to senior faculty’s office hours, even though I knew from experience that Miller was kind and direct in that charming Texan way of his. And he was. Actually, I was mortified when I saw he’d gone through my draft with a pencil, leaving behind a trail of copyediting symbols: pencil though, not red ink. I took a deep breath. We sat down together, among his books, art, and elegant ceramics, and he went through his notes with me, along with a potential new outline for the piece and a lot of astute comments that engaged my analysis and pushed my thinking into deeper questions about intersectional feminisms and whiteness. It turns out, pencils are useful tools, and I didn’t die from critique. In fact, that piece eventually formed the core ideas behind my dissertation. I can draw a direct line from working on that article as a graduate student in Miller’s sunny office to the work I will do with my own grad students in my new job in Chicago this fall. And I am forever grateful.
My favorite memory of Miller is a moment from his teaching. I was taking his class on contemporary rhetoric that he humorously called “Kenneth Burke and Friends.” It was early in the spring semester, a pleasantly breezy day with puffy white clouds in a vivid blue sky. Miller decided we should hold class outdoors, and we all collected our things and followed our baseball-capped leader out to Old Main. We sat together on the steps with the gentle bubbling of the fountain in the background and talked. To me, a first-generation student, that afternoon among my cohort, under the gentle spring sun, discussing and debating identification and communication as it is embodied and also frustrated by material conditions, with Miller guiding us through Burke’s dense and creative prose, fulfilled a dream of what I had always hoped learning could be. Every semester, I take my own graduate students outside on a beautiful day in honor of Miller and to share an embodied piece of that dream.
I recently asked Miller what he was going to do with his retirement, and he laughed and said that I could be in charge of that—I could tell him what to do. And I’m sure this is unsurprising to those who know me that I’ve got a few opinions about that.
Keith: go to all the baseball games you can. Eat meals with your friends. Collect art. Travel. Write books. Listen to music. Spend time with your son, Andrew. But most of all, please revel in the knowledge that you have had a profound effect on myself and so many students over the years. Your contribution is great, and we are all so fortunate to have worked with you, learned from you, and benefited from your intellect, wisdom, and grace.
Thank you, Keith.
Note: This piece was adapted from remarks given by Cindy Tekobbe at a Department of English retirement event in April. Tekobbe began with these words from Keith Miller’s son, Andrew: “Congratulations to my father on his retirement. His dedication to the research. students, colleagues, and the university while raising me on his own has been remarkable to say the least. I spent many childhood hours in the LL building and had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful people. I want to especially thank Karen Adams, Aaron Baker, Taylor Corse, and Elizabeth Horan, for being a huge support to me and my father. I have no doubt that my father will continue to be a presence in the community and hope that he is getting recognized for everything he has done for ASU. Thank you.”
Image 1: ASU photo of Keith Miller standing outside Ross-Blakley Hall by Deanna Dent.
Image 2: Courtesy photo of Keith Miller with his son, Andrew.