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After Words

Arthur Miller '55

1998: Professor Pizzazz

Are teachers entertainers?

Arthur Miller surely is. The Bruce Bromley Professor of Law at Harvard Law School is one of the nation's top experts on court procedure and issues of privacy. He directs the university's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. He recently delivered the distinguished Charles E. Steinberg Lecture in Psychiatry and the Law at Rochester.

And he has dressed up as Bette Midler and sung "The Rose" to his law students.

"Some of my most prized possessions are photographs of students thoroughly enjoying themselves. When you see students just uninhibitedly roaring with laughter . . ." he pauses, laughing himself. "Let's just say Harvard Law is not a bag of laughs."

Miller has spent his whole career making the nuances of the law enjoyable to learn. And not just law-school whiz kids benefit from his talents. For years before Jerry Springer spiced up the airwaves with his no-holds-barred talk show, Miller hosted lively debates and miniaturized trials in Miller's Court on Boston TV. Waving his arms around like a symphony conductor, he got people to weigh in on issues of everyday import--locker room privacy, for example. One viewer at home told him he got so excited he found himself hollering at the TV.

These days Miller is the legal editor for ABC's Good Morning America. He also hosts the weekly Miller's Law, a Larry King style program on Courtroom Television Network.

He says he's proudest of a PBS series for which he conducted Socratic dialogues (and that have become the basis for college telecourses): The Constitution: That Delicate Balance and Managing Our Miracles: Health Care in America. He won an Emmy for The Sovereign Self.

And through Harvard's Berkman Center, last year he taught an online course on privacy. The course had to stop taking enrollees after 2,000 people in about 25 countries signed up.

Miller is widely recognized for his work in the field of the right of privacy. His influential book, The Assault on Privacy: Computers, Data Banks, and Dossiers, was written in 1971, long before privacy became a major media issue.

His purely academic side is most proud of co-authoring the standard treatise on federal practice, a 40-plus volume set used as a trusted reference by judges and legal experts around the country.

All this activity leads to the obvious question: How does Miller keep up this pace?

"It's exhausting. I've been running myself ragged most of my professional life," he acknowledges. "I suppose I'm a workaholic. I suppose I like what I do. I suppose I love the diversity. I have never wanted to be a completely cloistered academic. So I turned outside. Doing a show one day, classes the next, writing the next: It has a sort of rejuvenating effect."

Like any entertainer, Miller mentally prepares himself before each "performance." He's been doing this since his first days as a teacher, when he "just sort of busted out of myself. I still get a little uptight before a class, even. The entirety of my life these days is speaking, and I sort of have to crank up."

Miller and his students cranked it way up for a time there. A simple skit to illustrate the principles of a major court case for his Procedure class turned into an annual media event that drew hundreds of onlookers. It was dubbed Erie Day, for Erie Railroad v. Tompkins. Besides performing in drag as Bette Midler, Miller dressed as John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever--white suit, gold chains, slick black hair, even lights and smoke.

Though he closed down Erie Day in the mid-1980s, students still occasionally circulate a petition calling for its revival.

While the disco moves helped Miller relax and enjoy performing in class, they could not be relied on for his serious appellate work. Miller has argued five cases before the Supreme Court, "which is the most frightening thing I have ever done," he says.

The first time he argued before the court, he was "numb from the waist down."

"There's just something about the majesty of the Supreme Court courtroom and the tradition of those nine justices, and the fear that if you screw up you're letting down the entire profession," he says.

"Every time I argue a case--Supreme, appeal, trial--there's something that happens biologically, an adrenaline rush. If that stops coming, I'll know it's time to hang it up."

1955: Out of His Shell

"At Rochester, I was a mouse," Miller recalls. "I was a kid from Brooklyn who had never been away from home. It was a tremendously broadening experience."

Armed with a Bausch & Lomb scholarship, Miller came to Rochester to study metallurgical engineering. But that didn't last long.

"I doubt I've ever learned how to spell 'metallurgical' because it lasted about three days. I fell asleep in calculus, and my chair tipped over. I was so embarrassed I changed my major," he jokes.

Miller followed his heart and studied history instead. Becoming a member of the Debate Society brought him out of his shell--and foreshadowed his leanings toward entertainment.

"The drama coach at the time was a woman named Lisa Rauschenbusch," Miller recalls. "She had a presence you wouldn't believe. She didn't occupy a room; she filled a room. She had this huge, I mean huge, voice."

During one of the team's first tournaments, Miss Rauschenbusch served as a judge for one of Miller's debates. Afterwards, she asked him, "Arthur, have you ever done any stage work?"

"I said, 'Well, yes, I was a stage electrician,' " Miller recalls.

"Having heard you debate, I think you would be a wonderful actor," she said in her commanding British. "We're staging King Lear, and I think you'd be wonderful as Edmund the Baaaastard."

"Only she could say it that way," Miller says now, laughing. "There's nothing inconsistent between effective teaching and entertainment."

Sally Parker

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