The Wells College Association of Alumnae and Alumni (WCA) honors Veryl V. Miles ’77 with the 2022 WCA Award in recognition of her distinction in legal education. “I can think of no better candidate for this honor,” says Tobie Tyler Van Der Vorm ’70.
The award—the highest honor given by the WCA—honors Wells alumnae and alumni of high achievement in professions and careers, in volunteer and community work, in service to their alma mater, or in some combination of these endeavors.
“Wells gave me the joy of teaching,” says Veryl. “That joy is with me every day.” This realization crystallized on her Commencement Day. Looking up at the Wells College faculty seated on the steps of Macmillan, she thought: “They have such amazing love—such passion—for what they do.” Although she had recently committed to attend law school, she was still debating her career choices. Contemplating her teachers and mentors that day, she thought: “Maybe I’ll be a law professor, or maybe I’ll teach theatre.” But she knew for certain, she wanted to teach.
After law school, while working as an attorney for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Veryl learned about a faculty recruitment conference sponsored by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) and began her quest to become a law professor. Her first faculty appointment was at George Mason University.
Five years later, Veryl joined the faculty at the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law (CSL), her law school alma mater, where she has served with distinction for the past 33 years. Promoted full professor in 1997, she later served two years as associate dean for academic affairs. During a two-year leave of absence, as deputy director of AALS, she traveled widely, becoming steeped in issues of common concern to the nation’s law schools, from curriculum development, to technology, to building diversity in law school faculties.
Returning to Catholic, Veryl was appointed dean in 2005, choosing as the theme for her deanship a vision of the law school community as one “working toward and for the Common Good. She was the first African American and first woman to serve in these positions at the law school, and she served seven years before resuming full-time teaching. Shanée Scott, CSL ’17, is now a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice. Describing the significance of Veryl’s appointment to her as a Black woman, she says, “You walk down the hall to the dean’s office, and all the portraits are [of] white men. Then you get to Dean Miles’s portrait. You never get over that.”
“Veryl is elegant, gracious, warm and unflappable—a leader who always makes good on her promises,” says longtime colleague Kathryn Kelly. “In her first month as dean, Hurricane Katrina arrived. Midway through her first term, the stock market collapsed, followed by an earthquake in D.C. at the end of the term,” she adds. “Veryl faced all disasters, natural and man-made, with the same aplomb and ‘never say die’ attitude.”
A former provost at Catholic once told Veryl that the faculty she hired would be her legacy. “She hired many junior faculty, and she supported each one of them,” says colleague Regina Jefferson. “She evaluated their teaching, their scholarship, and their service, nurturing them in all three areas.”
Throughout her career, Veryl has taught commercial law, one of the driest and more daunting courses in any American law school. She laughs when asked how someone known for warmth, empathy, and humor chose to specialize in this area. “I went to a job fair at the end of law school, with an armful of resumés, but no invitations to interview,” she recalls. “I headed straight to the only table where the recruiter was sitting alone, talked her ears off, and ended up with a job offer from the Federal Reserve. So, banking law was the first area in which I had real experience, and I stuck with it.”
As both teacher and mentor, Veryl encourages students, as future attorneys, to see legal issues from a social justice standpoint: As she has written: “…a … meaningful, challenging, and enlightened measurement of the success of a law would be to assess how effectively it serves the notions of social justice.”
“Dean Miles loves teaching, molding law students as attorneys, and imbuing them with an understanding of the profession.” says Kwambina Coker, CLS ’18, now a criminal prosecutor for the City of Philadelphia.
The volume of material in her area, along with the knowledge that it will be heavily tested on the bar exam, causes many students to approach her courses with anxiety. “But Dean Miles keeps every class lively and interactive,” says Shanée Scott, “If you don’t know the answer to a question, she makes it a teachable moment, instead of embarrassing you by jumping to someone else.”
Veryl has been a passionate advocate of action within the legal academy to recruit, retain, and promote both faculty and students that reflect the nation’s racial, ethnic and gender diversity. Always eager to open doors of opportunity to underrepresented communities, she has worked with numerous professional and educational organizations to create diverse and welcoming environments.
In high school, Veryl discovered the Speech Club and spent every weekend at competitions throughout the Washington area. At Wells, she was active in “The Forum,” a weekly platform for the Wells community to address topics of interest. Her first speech drew the attention of Adrienne Anderson ’75, a Kastalia member, who suggested she audition for its their next production. Success! Her role in the French farce A Gown for His Mistress would be the first of many and the gateway to four years of exceptional experiences, friendships, and performances.
Forty years later, audience members remember her performances. As Medea, Veryl embodied tragedy. In the title role of King Lear, “she was Lear,” recalls Bridget Best Johnson ’80. As a junior, she played the seductress in Godspell, memorably perching spontaneously in the lap of audience member [and longtime Engligh professor] Alan Clugston. When Godspell was restaged the following fall in honor of the inauguration of President Sissy Farenthold, Veryl pivoted from the seductress to play the JB/Judas role and brought down the house.
Veryl was the first Black president of Collegiate, elected without opposition andremembered as a strong, caring, and confident leader. She promptly took charge. “After the election, very few students were signing up to work on Collegiate committees,” she recalls. “So, during lunchtime, I announced to the student body, ‘This is your school. The only way anything happens is if you do it!’ And the sign-ups began.”
Veryl has remained intensely loyal to Wells, ever appreciative of the opportunities it offered. She served twice on the Wells Board of Trustees, returned to Aurora as the Class of 2007’s Commencement speaker, and was co-consultant to the Presidential Search Committee in 2014.
In honoring Veryl with this year’s WCA award, Wells celebrates her leadership and grace as a student, her devotion to legal education as a tool of social justice, and her love for this unique place that is our alma mater.
Veryl will be presented with the 2022 WCA Award on Saturday, June 4 during Reunion weekend. Registration for the weekend is now open! See alumni.wells.edu/reunion for details.