William Miller, 1925-2017

Former Stanford provost, leader in fields of fundraising and international exchanges, remembered

October 19, 2017
William Miller
Source: Special Collections & University Archives/Stanford

A computing pioneer, entrepreneur and former provost of Stanford has died.

William Miller was born in Vincennes, Indiana on 19 November 1925, the son of a farmer and a university Classics teacher. After serving in the Army, he studied maths and physics at Purdue University, followed by a master's and PhD in physics. He worked at the Argonne National Laboratory (part of the University of Chicago) as director of the applied mathematics division, where he became a pioneering figure in computer science. In 1964, he joined Stanford University as a professor in the mathematics department and head of the computation group at what was then the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

Only one year later, the computer science department at Stanford split off from mathematics and Professor Miller became a founding faculty member. He was deeply committed to the importance of computers in both business and the academy and, in 1968, became the US’ first associate provost for computing. Two years later, he was appointed Stanford’s first vice-president for research, before being promoted to provost under then president Richard Lyman. He was instrumental in moving classified research off campus during a period of student protest, removed the cap on the number of female undergraduates and helped raise $300 million through his Campaign for Stanford. When he stepped down as provost, Professor Lyman described him as “the one responsible for Stanford’s reputation as the university with the best-managed resources in the country”.

While provost, Professor Miller made the first of many trips to Asia, which led to the first exchange programme between an American university and China. He went on to combine a position as the first Herbert Hoover professor of public and private management at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business with a role as CEO of the non-profit research institute SRI International. Asia remained a particular focus of his collaborative projects, commemorated by the creation of the William F. Miller School of Management of Technology at Konkuk University in South Korea and the Miller Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Zhejiang University in China.

A powerful advocate for Silicon Valley, Professor Miller was an initial investor in Mayfield, one of the earliest venture capital firms to be established there. Returning to Stanford in 1990, he held faculty positions in both computer science and the business school. Although he retired and became emeritus in 1997, he remained very active and co-authored his last research article at the age of 87.

Professor Miller died on 27 September and is survived by his son Rodney.

matthew.reisz@timeshighereducation.com

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