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  February 5, 2001

Head of Human Resources Finds Retiring
More Than She Bargained For

Her career has involved dealing directly or indirectly with thousands of retirements, but when it came time to leave her own job, UConn's chief negotiator found retiring was more than she had bargained for.

"I hadn't quite realized the magnitude of the change involved, but I'm excited," said Virginia Miller, vice chancellor for human resources, a day before stepping down after more than 10 years at UConn and a total of 25 years working for the State of Connecticut in the fields of labor relations and personnel administration.

Her early years at UConn were perhaps the hardest. When the Weicker administration laid off hundreds of state employees during the recession of the early 1990s, she had to deliver pink slips to those laid off from the University. To Miller, keenly aware of what she calls "the human connection" in her work, it was a wrenching responsibility.

Her time at UConn also involved overseeing a massive wave of early retirements in 1997, under a state incentive program. As some of the vacancies created began to be filled, Miller initiated an orientation program for new employees at the University.

Under her guidance, UConn has emerged as a leading state agency in dealing with violence in the workplace. The human resources department also has established a data entry program to enable graduate assistants to get paid more promptly; fashioned a career development tool presented at a national human resources conference last fall; produced an employee handbook that was distributed for the first time last month; and formed a new training program for supervisors that will be launched this spring.

Ed Marth, executive director of the American Association of University Professors, UConn chapter, in a letter to Miller on the occasion of her retirement, praised her for "many hours of fair dealing and compassion for those in need.

"Ginnie made a great difference for the better for hundreds, if not thousands," he added.

Miller, who grew up in Glastonbury, began her career working for a year for the Central Intelligence Agency. Then she moved back to Connecticut and heard about the career opportunities for women in state government.

"I wanted a place without the glass ceiling I perceived in the business world," she said.

She joined the Department of Mental Health at a time when the state was moving toward collective bargaining and later joined the state's first negotiating team, to negotiate a contract with the maintenance union.

After working for many years at DMH and subsequently at the Department of Mental Retardation, she joined UConn as a labor relations specialist in 1990. The early mentoring she received from Joan Geeter, then the University's assistant vice president for labor relations, inspired her not only to serve as a mentor to new employees herself but to foster mentoring relationships among senior and junior employees throughout the University.

When the University's personnel and labor relations functions were merged into a single department of human resources in 1996, Miller was appointed the first vice chancellor of human resources.

The scope of her position has been extensive. It encompasses oversight of employment services, conduct of all labor relations, benefits administration, recruitment and retention, and the development of policy related to human resources.

There is probably no UConn employee in Storrs, on the regional campuses, or at the School of Law whose work life has not been touched by Miller. (The Health Center has its own human resources department.) Yet many "know" her best from her weather announcements, broadcast via the University's voice mail system. Others know her from her involvement in community activities such as the Husky Hauler moving-in-day program, or the end-of-semester Midnight Breakfast for students at exam time.

Although Miller's last day on the job was Feb. 1, many of her ties with UConn will continue.

She will remain the University's chief negotiator, under a state provision that enables retirees to continue working for up to 120 days. During that period, she expects to finalize the recently negotiated professional employees' (UCPEA) contract, as well as to negotiate the next faculty (AAUP) contract and an intersession agreement.

And look for her on campus. An avid fan of Husky basketball and the Connecticut Repertory Theatre, in her spare time she and her husband Paul - who suffered a serious neck injury many years ago and has had major spinal surgery - also plan to work out at UConn's fitness center.

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu