|MERTON MILLER is no ordinary professor. Accordingly, his achievements
and the new professorship in his name required a unique celebration.
And anyone who knows Miller knows that champagne would not be
his first choice of beverage to toast his success.
Thats why 25 friends, colleagues, students, and family members found themselves sampling the worlds best beers (according to Mert) at the Gleacher Center May 20. Over an Alsatian meal complemented by three Belgian and German beers, the group celebrated a new distinguished professorship in his honor. Millers wife, Katherine, his three daughters, his research assistant turned Nobel Laureate Myron Scholes, and a host of others affectionately reminisced about Millers views, his influence, and his lengthy affiliation with Chicago. The honoree, of course, had plenty to say. What follows are excerpts from the event, which was held during the week of Millers 75th birthday.
On being honored
"Its a great honor and a thrill for anyone in academia to get a chair," Miller said, "and its an even greater honor to have a name chaired for you, and during your own lifetime. I feel to some extent like Tom Sawyer at his own funeral."
On emeritus status
"The beauty of the emeritus rank is that its like an option. If theres a faculty meeting and I dont want to go, I say, Well, Im emeritus. On the other hand, if I do want to go, I say, Well, Im still on the faculty."
Millers daughter, Louise Lorber, recalled, "In high school, I had a ground floor bedroom. I could pretty well sneak people in and out. I used to babysit on weeknights, so I had a lot of cash, and then we used to hang out on weekend nights. One Friday night Kathy was out of town, and I had a bunch of kids in my room. We were drinking. Well, were all in my room and I hear a knock on the door. Its Dad. Lulu, can I see you? he asked. I knew I was in trouble. I sort of opened the door, stepped out, closed the door behind me, and said, Yeah, Dad, what do you need? I was afraid he was going to kill me. But he just said, Can I borrow 20 bucks? Im going out with Myron."
"I asked Katherine, Would you ever get up in public and lie to save my skin the way Hillary Clinton did? And she thought about it for awhile and said, Only if it was a tax matter," Miller said.
On the student-teacher relationship
"When I came to the University of Chicago, I had never taken an econ course, and I went right into 333," Joel Stern said. "Merton Miller was the professor, and I used to ask such dumb questions. After a while, Merton couldnt stand it anymore. In those days we had manila folders upstairs, outside of George Shultzs office. Merton said, Joel, I want you to go downstairs, look in your folder, therell be a derringer there. I want you to pull the trigger until something exciting happens. Fast forward around 20 years. I invited a number of outstanding professors to speak for my clients...I invited Professor Miller to come. He said, Oh no, really, and I said, Just come to lunch, and he said all right...I decided to come up with a unique way to get Professor Miller to say something because he had said he would not be a part of the program. My father always said that you are always to stand in the presence of a teacher. And I look over the audience and realized that Merton Miller was a teacher to everyone here, either in the classroom or through the articles he had written. So I asked everybody if they would stand and join me in saluting our teacher. So everybody stood and started to applaud. And I said, Mert, would you please come up and say a few words? He came up in front, looked out over the audience, and said, Joel Stern was always my favorite student."
"I was at one time the Edward Eagle Brown Professor way back in the 60s," Miller said, "and my mother-in-law was so impressed that she got me a bowling shirt with that title embroidered on the back."
On the challenges of mentoring
"Bill [Waters] set a world record on time to achieve a Ph.D," Miller said. "Several members of his committee are here this evening, and you may remember when he presented his proposal. And we thought it was pretty good but needed a little work, thats all. He took the document back to Toronto, and then we didnt hear anything. Fifteen years later there was a knock on the door. I said, Bill, where have you been, and whats that box under your arm? That box, he said, is my thesis. He finished it, and it was good."
On the Nobel experience
"We were in Stockholm and each of the laureates had to give their Nobel speech before they can get their cash," Louise Lorber recounted. "Dad had won with two other folks that year, and they went first. After one of the speeches, the audience of Swedish students began to ask questions. One said, Isnt it true that the computerized trading caused the crash of 87? Afterward, Dad said, I really would have answered that differently if I had been on the stage. And I said, What would you have said? And he said, I would have taken off my lavaliere microphone, climbed down off the stage, and punched the guy."
On his publications
"Curiously enough, these books have become cult relics," Miller said. "I was teaching 333 some years back, and used Theory of Finance. The student evaluations came back. One said: The course was okay, but that Fama book was murder! Ill say this about those books. Im still very proud of all of them. Theyre excellent books and statements of an apparently diminishing wing of finance and economics...theyre still great books and theyre repeatedly given the best kind of flattery they can get: imitation."
"In 1991, we were in London for a conference," said Rex Sinquefield, 72. "After the conference, Merton said, Rex, Katherine has given me this chore. I have to look for some paintings. Paintings of either ships or dogs. So I said, Look, I know all the art galleries, well go around. So we go to five or six different places and hes not finding anything he likes. Finally we come into this little gallery, filled with paintings and lithographs and drawings of just ships and dogs. And the lady that runs the gallery is right there. And I say, Mert, heres a painting of a ship. And Mert says, Ill be the judge of whether its a good or not. He looks at it, takes off his glasses, and then says, Nah. This is no good. Its a got a Union Jack on it. Im not going to buy one with a Union Jack on it unless its one that we sunk."
On his favorite toast
"As I always say," Miller said raising his glass at the evenings end, "confusion to our enemies."