Alton Miller - Columbia College Chicago

Alton Miller

Associate Professor


Alton Miller served as Associate Dean of the School of Media Arts at Columbia College Chicago (2005-2012), where he is an associate professor, teaching public relations writing, PR history, and political communications. His governance responsibilities have included the Faculty Senate (2015-16 and 2016-17) and serving as chair of the Academic Affairs Committee. He is one of a dozen teachers invited to pioneer Columbia's revised First Semester Experience, teaching a class of 100 freshmen in a course titled "Civil Rights in Chicago." He is a member of the board of the Community Renewal Society, which publishes The Chicago Reporter and Catalyst, and he's chair of CRS's Publications Committee, 

His professional career has included public relations in arts, politics and the media, including a professional career as a speechwriter, in arts, politics and higher education.

Arts: Mr. Miller came to Chicago as a ballet manager. Formerly PR director of the Washington Theater Club (1966-68) and director of press and public relations at Arena Stage (1968-76) in his native Washington, D.C., and managing director of the Washington Ballet (1978-83), he was named general director of Maria Tallchief's Chicago City Ballet in 1983. A decade later, as a consultant for the Illinois Arts Alliance, he created brochures and a CD presentation, and was engaged for a prolonged statewide speaking program to articulate the economic impact of the arts in Illinois.

Politics: In 1985, he changed careers when he was appointed press secretary to Mayor Harold Washington, a position he held until the Chicago mayor's death in 1987. As a communications consultant he also worked with then-Senate candidate Carol Moseley-Braun, Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode, Chicago City Treasurer Miriam Santos, the Illinois Arts Alliance, the Chicago Board of Education, and for United Auto Workers in its contract dispute with Caterpillar Inc. in Decatur and Peoria, Illinois.

Media: A freelance writer and the author of three nonfiction works, including the Chicago best-seller Harold Washington: The Mayor, The Man (1989), Mr. Miller served as theater writer and drama critic for Washington Calendar Magazine (1976-1980), and as the replacement first-nighter for the Washington Star, during David Richards’s sabbatical. He was cultural editor for In These Times magazine, and has authored numerous articles on arts, politics and the media. His other two published books are Climbing a Great Mountain: Selected Speeches of Mayor Harold Washington (1988); and William Warfield: My Music & My Life (1991) coauthored with William Warfield.

Academics: Mr. Miller began teaching as an assistant professor (adjunct) in 1990. Full-time since 1999, following his appointment as Director of the Public Relations Studies program, he was granted tenure in 2005. He was the author and principal investigator for a $1.5 million "Crisis Communications Research Project," studying the potential for social media in crisis prevention and response; and co-PI for H.E.L.P., a computer simulation to certify high-rise office workers in emergency training.

In 2005, he was awarded his M.F.A. in Writing by Goddard College in Vermont. His thesis was a political novel, Chicago Power & Light.

Family: He has one daughter, Julie, from his first marriage, and a granddaughter, Margaret. A widower in 2005, he remarried (Dominika) and is the father of Victoria (born 2007) and Nina (2011).

Instructional Areas

PR, Public Relations, Speechwriting, Political PR, Politics, Campaign Management, Writing, Reputation Management, Social Media

Creative Practice and Research Interests

Rhetoric, History of PR, Civil Rights, 1960's, Public Affairs, Theater Arts, Dance, Arts Management