professor
Robert Miller

This professor has earned a CULPA gold nugget

Nov 2016

Never take his class. Worst class ever in my life

Aug 2003

RTM is a ridiculously great teacher. The following is a letter of recommendation that originally went elsewhere, but I thought it should be posted on Culpa, as well. Robert Miller’s passion for learning and concern for the well being of his students are exceptional and obvious. He sends us mass emails inviting us to relevant lectures, plays, or films; after every class, he gives us additional information and lecture notes; his commentary on graded papers is nearly as long as the paper itself. Next week, our class is screening the film of Pride and Prejudice because one student mentioned that she owns it, and he insisted that we set up a time for the whole class to enjoy it. Mr. Miller cares for his students so much that he wants us to be better people; this quality is what makes him a truly great teacher. Very few teachers dare to do what Robert Miller does: instruct us on how to live our lives as good people. Using each work on the syllabus as support for his overall purpose, which is to teach us how to live, Mr. Miller presents us with a constant theme throughout both semesters. The lectures for each work are airtight, and the arguments he presents us with for each text connect to the overarching theme of the class. A week or two ago, we read Shakespeare’s King Lear. I had previously been taught that Shakespeare was a master of the English language, and that is why he is considered great; thus, I read King Lear in this light, and I enjoyed it without giving a thought to the greater idea of “the good life.” I should have realized that Mr. Miller always has a deeper reading, and this time it turned out no differently. During the two-hour lecture, Mr. Miller pointed out each incidence where a character was referred to as a “fool” and structured the lecture around these incidences. In this time, the class discussed the plot and analyzed the characters, just as the other Literature Humanities sections undoubtedly did; we covered the basics. There was also another level of reading that the other classes did not discuss. Mr. Miller connected each incident when a character was labeled as a fool and drew parallels between these characters. They were all “good,” and the label of “fool” took on a new meaning, introducing a further discussion of “the good life.” The lecture was clearly well planned, and Mr. Miller magnified one of Shakespeare’s subtle points so that we could consider and understand the deeper meaning. And King Lear is just one of the works we’ve covered throughout the year, all taught in the same detailed manner. One may argue that a one-sided presentation of how to live one’s life is unfair to the students. But Mr. Miller treats us as mature adults who can judge the value of a teacher’s argument. I can only wish that everyone would have teachers with such strong convictions, such passion, and such intelligence as Robert Miller.

Jul 2003

I switched into Miller’s lit hum class in the middle of the year, so I can write a bit about what it is that makes Miller so different and compels his students to write the longest, most gushing reviews you can find on CULPA. The first instructor I had for lit hum was about average- he spoke about the historical context of the works as most people snoozed. Like many classes, the environment was such that for the couple people who stayed awake, there was the pressure of only opening your mouth to say things that were very profound. The problem though is that, especially in such circumstances, freshmen never say anything brilliant and profound: they just wind up using big words out of context and boring even themselves. Two things struck me my first day in Miller’s class: noone was asleep (despite it being a 9am class) and people were talking, interrupting each other good naturedly, and laughing. Miller makes sure that his classroom is never stuffy or pretentious. In the middle of a discussion about St. Augustine, he will write a list on the board about the top ten things a man looks for in a woman from out of his wife’s “Cosmo.” And when it came down to it, discussions in which students were able to express themselves and their ideas even if it involves quoting Oprah are not only engaging, but often do actually reach those levels of profundity which were never reached in my first class. But it is not only his personality and way of engaging the class that makes this class so inspiring. His approach to teaching this course is not to give us a few choice quotes to use at corporate cocktail parties. He does much more than that: he teaches you about life and does so not by preaching, but by presenting a rigorous challenge to any of your preconceived notions of who and what you want to be. He teaches all of the thing that people claim can’t be learned in school. When a friend of mine wanted to look at Columbia, the first thing I did was to bring her to this class. Miller epitomizes all of the reasons that glossy brochure convinced you to chose Columbia and does so with kindness and true concern for each of his students. One of the few professors to whose office hours students go just to chat, even though they are at 8am Monday morning. Do whatever you can to find a way into his class!

Jun 2003

As a rising senior, I have never taken a class quite like RTM's. RTM makes a concerted effort to get to know each of his students on an individual level. If one makes a reference to one's home state, RTM might recall the person's home town. At the same time, RTM's lectures are filled with fun anecdotes about his life experiences. So, students get to know RTM and RTM gets to know his students. After the first paper is handed back, each student sets up an appointment with him to discuss where s/he is going in the class. While the idea of a one-to-one conversation with an instructor might seem daunting, it isn't. RTM offers constructive criticism. RTM gives the class a substantial background in philosophy, providing a solid base for CC in the next year (Having taken CC before Lit Hum, I found that RTM's lecture comments shed some light on CC retroactively). While our discussions sometimes centered a bit too much on the underlying philosophy of the author, some of the most important points in the works did not go unnoticed: namely, what is and is not important for humans and how to live a fulfilling life.

Jun 2003

At 8:00 AM every Monday and Wednesday morning, Robert T. Miller takes his seat at a corner table in Café 212. He places a yellow steno pad in front of him, on which he has outlined the tasks for the day in his neat, black handwriting. Sometimes he gets a Croissant?his favorites have that slice of chocolate wedged between the folds of pastry?sometimes he gets an orange juice. Whatever the breakfast, Professor Miller eats it slowly, contently, as he waits for his students to arrive. Professor Miller?s office hours may seem unorthodox, but so too is the man. Any other professor would balk at scheduling these bi-weekly meetings an hour before the nine o?clock class time, but Professor Miller does so confidently. As well he should, too; each time I arrive the fashionable fifteen minutes late I see him already engaged, or perhaps already engaging, a peer of mine in thoughtful conversation. Students want to come; they want to hear what he has to say, and they want to share with him their own discoveries. The best thing about Professor Miller is that he wants to share as well. At 8:55 the gathering travels across the quad to the second floor of Hamilton, to the classroom that has housed the most profound intellectual and moral growth of my life. Two rows of desks line the long sides of the room; these rows flank the lectern at the head of the class where, in quiet and deliberate steps, Professor Miller sets down his briefcase, takes off his watch, removes his jacket, rolls up his sleeves, and begins to teach. The first time I saw Professor Miller enact this ritual was a summery Wednesday in early September. He told us almost immediately that we might have to remind him to speak up, as he has a tendency to mumble. Somewhat worried that I might miss a lot of the lecture on the Iliad, I trained my ears on the man in front of me and my pencil on my paper, prepared, I guess, for anything. His first words, however, were not about Achilles, nor Homer, nor anything that I thought related to my first year literature course. Instead he asked, in clear, declamatory English, ?How should you live? What?s good? What?s bad? What?s important? What?s worth pursuing? What?s worth avoiding? What makes for a truly good human life?? I could not possibly have foreseen, as I sat quietly flabbergasted in my chair, the far reaching effects that those questions would have on my life. Using such inquiries as an introduction to Aristotelian morality, RTM (an abbreviated nickname the class has begun affectionately to use) has walked me and twenty-one fellow freshman through the books of the Lit. Hum syllabus. He keeps those questions close at hand, for he asserts (and I now firmly believe) that these books are great because they answer those questions. The books make an attempt to tackle the big issues, and they do so with grace and eloquence. RTM tackles these big issues, and that?s why I think he?s great. Independent of his morality, RTM selflessly dedicates himself to his students and their academic progress. My email box weekly receives thoughtfully chosen supplemental readings, all of which he provides simply for the class? enjoyment. He assigns two papers a semester, the first four to seven pages and the second a hefty ten to fifteen. I sent him a draft of my first essay at 11:00 AM on a Sunday morning, and by 1:15 that afternoon he returned it with extensive comments. Over the Christmas break I sent him an e-mail asking which translation of the Inferno to buy, and he called me back that evening, long distance and late New York time, ready with both the information and kind words for me and my family. It always strikes me, however, that no matter how special or important he makes me feel as a student, he does the same for the rest of the class. Few have effected me more profoundly than Robert T. Miller

Jun 2003

Mr. Miller is one of the best professors I've had in Columbia. He is very knowledgeable and smart. He is also extremely understanding and is very dedicated to his teaching. He thoroughly comments on all of your writing drafts so if you're willing to work hard and meet with him about your work, you'll do fine. I strongly recommend taking his class.

Jun 2003

RTM is undoubtedly one of the best Literature Humanities teachers at Columbia. Every accolade already attached to his name is well deserved. The most diligent professor I have ever had, RTM makes every effort to aid his students in understanding the texts as well as the complex philosophical concepts he wisely inserts into the class lectures alongside the literary analysis. His diligence is evident in his painstaking writing of class e-mail after e-mail, seemingly never-ending but always interesting and informative. He often provides links in his mass e-mails that relate to ideas he discussed during class so curious students interested in researching the topics discussed in class can conveniently explore the subjects further on their own. In addition, RTM answers every question posed to him through e-mail so thoroughly that it is hard not to feel somewhat unjustified in having him spend so much time and effort. His answers are always well organized, logical, and inspiring, for he provides justification behind every statement and comment he makes. It has never been easier to see one’s own flaws in writing, because RTM points them out so consistently and reasonably. But perhaps most illustrative of his immense effort towards the class are his comments on the papers we write, both on the drafts and on the finished papers. It is appropriate to comment here on another distinction worthy of merit: RTM is willing to correct drafts of papers often weeks before they are due. He encourages students to submit drafts and makes the most detailed comments on them, which are often immensely helpful for writing the final drafts and steer people generally in the right direction. The comments are not only thorough but also highly intellectual and eclectic, for he inserts texts such as the Bible, which we read in the course, Aristotle’s Ethics, which we will read in CC next year, and St. Augustine’s City of God, which is also on next year’s syllabus. All of the textual references he makes are designed to help students improve their papers, stimulate their intellectual interests in the course material, and draw important literary connections among many texts in the Western canon that are key to understanding the moral and philosophical themes at large. Most professors would not consider taking their own time to correct more papers than necessary, let alone spending hours and hours on each student. This policy that RTM adopts rewards another chance for students to write an A paper at the expense of the instructor rather than the student, and this only further indicates that RTM is truly remarkable. Class is amazingly informative and interesting. It is obvious that RTM puts an inordinate amount of time and effort into preparing his lectures, which are delivered ever so gracefully and succinctly. His tendency to sidetrack once in a while is actually a plus: he brings in elucidating examples and entertaining stories of various sorts that often illustrate a central theme or idea he is trying to communicate, which relates to the text being discussed. His stories are some of the best; they are often personal and illustrate his experiences as a former Columbia student, a former Yale Law School student, a lawyer, and finally a Literature Humanities teacher at his alma mater. Indeed, this man’s life experiences are amazing, his achievements supreme, his endearing nature lovable. But perhaps his most outstanding quality is his immense brilliance, his ability to assemble so much information and make intelligent statements and conclusions while allowing ample time for students to make comments and pose questions. His lectures are deeply philosophical, but although some of the concepts are difficult to understand unless students have taken an introductory philosophy course, RTM does a great job in explaining them so logically that they all begin to make sense after a while. He even makes charts demonstrating the differences among various philosophical theories and translates original texts into English for better understanding. RTM is not a full-time professor at Columbia, but he makes every effort to meet with students during his office hours. His personal discussions with his students are very interesting and often span many topics, but his willingness to converse with students about almost anything and offer a credible opinion makes him approachable and amiable. RTM fosters a love of learning in his students. He does not give “A”s very easily at all, but this only elevates the value of an “A” in his class versus the same grade in another Lit Hum class whose teacher could not care less about the students and how much they learn. RTM encourages students to improve their writing in every way, and although he rips the papers to shreds if they need it, he inserts congratulatory comments as well, when he sees that students are making genuine efforts to correct their mistakes. People start to realize that it’s all about the learning in the end, and in particular in this class, learning to relate the texts we discuss to life on a larger scale. Indeed, RTM teaches his students to ask themselves what exactly constitutes the good life and uses the literature to demonstrate, as best as he can, what one should avoid and pursue in order to achieve happiness and virtue. It is amazing how a class like Lit Hum could provide so many answers to some of the most difficult questions we could ask—including “How do we live the good life?” RTM indeed justifies the core curriculum, and it is precisely the opportunity to be under the instruction of individuals like him that makes a Columbia education so worthwhile. It is rare that a teacher works harder than the students, but hopefully through his hard work he is inspiring them to be just as diligent, intellectual, endearing, caring, and morally righteous as he.

Jun 2003

People throw around the adjective "great" too easily these days. Just because the professor or lecturer gives minimal homework, makes the class laugh and dishes out As, students shower him or her with tons of hyperbolic praise. What if you sincerely think that you have stumbled into a class taught by someone who truly deserves the title of "great"? How do you distinguish your review from the tons of other fawning tributes on CULPA? RTM delivers his Lit Hum lectures from a very focused viewpoint, and he makes it clear right from the start - he is going to tell us about how to lead a good human life. Some students think this severely limits the scope of discussion, others think its more philosophy than literature. I think it is engaging and thought-provoking every step of the way. Of course there will be plenty of points which you will be tempted to argue against, but believe me, this guy is smart so you better know your stuff (ie textual support) before taking the plunge. He tends to go on and on, so try to ask questions. What sets RTM apart from other "great" lecturers and teachers is his quiet intensity that makes his words resonate so much. I find myself thinking about certain statements he made long after the morning class had been over. There would be moments in class where everything just clicked - why you are in college, why you chose Columbia, why on earth do they have Lit Hum as a core class. I call these moments the Dead Poets Society moments. The class listening intently and the tense atmosphere of the class making you sense something magical is happening. Workwise, RTM does not have a strict grading citeria. I think it is more based on how much effort you put into the class and the level of interest you show rather than anything else. Two long papers a semester are meticulously commented upon, including L+R style corrections, logical errors and of course suggestions on improvement. I remember the last day of class where RTM stood in front of the class and told us it was a privilege to teach us and how important teaching is to him. I was struck by his humility, and it was quite a touching scene. That kind of dedication to students was the clincher for me to write this review ... and not many "great" teachers can have that kind of effect.

May 2002

Robert Miller singlehandedly justifies the core. He is brilliant; he is endearing; he puts exorbitant effort into preparing his lectures, grading papers, and writing mass email after mass email. He doesn't teach Lit Hum as a dry review of historical contexts or forgettable literary theories, but instead uses the texts as a springboard for philosophical discussions, to gently guide his students towards discovering and refining their own beliefs. RTM attended Columbia as an undergrad, so he understands what it's like to be on the other side of the podium. He will do just about anything to help you write and think critically. His comments on emailed paper proposals are thorough, prompt, and useful; he offers specific references in Aristotle, the Bible, works of criticism, etc., to correspond to your arguments. Be prepared for an endless stream of bitter but entertaining lawyer jokes, usually at the expense of Yale Law School. (He's a corporate lawyer turned philosophy grad student.) This man is marvelous. Count your blessings.

May 2002

RTM is the James Brown of the Lit Hum dept. Not only the hardest working lithum teacher, but also one of the best. He apparently took his lithum class (yes hes an alum) with the late great Wallace Gray, and must have taken good notes. He preaches that lithum is not just about all that symbolism BS, but about "learning for life." I suggest RTM to those who think that all they want in life is some cold hard cash, because he will make you see that there are more rewarding things to life. Its true that the conversations can get a bit complex, but listen up! Most of those philosophical dudes have something good to say. I say take RTM his knowledge will amaze you, and you may learn more about yourself than the actual material.

May 2002

Mr. Miller, or RTM as he signs everything, is well worth any difficult front he puts up in the first few classes. Not to say that the class does not require work, it does, but RTM has a genuine interest both in the literature and his students and that makes the work go by much faster. Easily sidetracked and filled with a morbid distaste for lawyers (although he used to be one), RTM will make anyone who shows up half awake truly interested in the material. Beyond the actual books, however, he subtly offers his students worthwhile advice on life and columbia, as he is a former grad. He's a big dork, but it's one of his most endearing qualities. A huge fan of mass emails, he's the hardest working lit hum professor for sure, as there is always feedback and internet links from class discussion in my mail box. Don't let his bullshit sermon on the first day scare you; he's a big pussycat and well worth it for the required year of lit hum.

May 2002

He is a great guy, a good sense of humor, witty jokes in class, and reasonable grader. not one of those CORE instructors who just give u A's or A-'s easily. Its simple: if u read the books (or instead have the genius capability to BS ur way through lit hum and philosophies), u r saved. one of those "sweet guys" who married his high school sweetheart! has a bit of "I wasnt so cool in High school" personality complex (which may go with all nice guys) but in general, he is very cool. 2 major set backs: u r guaranteed to have at least one 15 page paper (on rather difficult topics) each semester, which is unheard of esp in lit hum. 2nd: he takes weekly quizes on the assigned readings. the good side is: he says theres no single factor in a good grade. IT ALL COUNTS. in general, if u dont mind living through a few sleepless nights prior to the papers, i say take him. a bit of reading and real lit hum discussion in class wont kill u.