Lee Ryan Miller

Motivational Speaker       Writer       Teacher      Scholar       World Traveler


an excerpt from Lee Ryan Millerís

Teaching Amidst the
Neon Palm Trees

An exciting true story

Intrigue and Corruption
in Las Vegas.
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      At 10 a.m. several dozen faculty members hired during the past two semesters assembled at the Las Vegas Country Club. The event was held in an elegant rotunda overlooking the beautifully manicured grounds and a sparkling lake. After enjoying a large buffet brunch, CCSN President Richard Moore rose to speak.

       Moore had continued to be a very controversial figure since I had arrived in Las Vegas a year and a half earlier. He was famous for his success at currying favor with powerful politicians, and enlisting their support for many of his endeavors at CCSN. But Mike Green, Billy Monkman, and many other liberal faculty members had criticized him as tactless and politically biased when he had invited Kenny Guinn, the presumed Republican nominee for governor, to be graduation speaker the previous May. When Moore had named a building after Bill Raggio, the powerful Republican state senate majority leader from northern Nevada, local Democratic politicians denounced him, rightly pointing out that Raggio had been responsible for funneling disproportionate funding to northern Nevada colleges, at the expense of CCSN and UNLV. Moore also had spent over $100,000 purchasing equipment to create bronze busts of Guinn and Raggio, according to newspaper reports. Furthermore, many people felt that Moore’s marketing efforts were in bad taste: Moore had rented a billboard next to the McDonald’s restaurant near the Charleston campus, reading, “Ten billion served — how to avoid a life of serving them — Community College of Southern Nevada.”       

       Nevertheless, Moore was charming, charismatic, and a good speaker – all valuable qualities for a college president. I have tried to recount what he said on this occasion as faithfully as my notes and my memory permit.

       “I’m really glad you’re all here,” said Moore. “I always enjoy the opportunity to tell people how great CCSN is.”

       The crowd began to chuckle.



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       “But first,” continued Moore, “I’d like to tell you about one recent achievement that I’m really proud about. When I got here at CCSN, I couldn’t believe that a college of this stature had no sports teams. We now have big plans to introduce lots of sports at CCSN – baseball, soccer, and, uh,… and lots of others. I’m sure you noticed this cap I’m wearing.” Moore pulled the blue and gold baseball cap from his head and waved it to and fro for the crowd to see. “I’m really proud to announce that the new baseball team has finally begun practice. It took a lot of work, but they’re up and running. This has been one of my favorite projects. I even got the school colors changed, so that they would match Berkeley, my alma mater.” Moore replaced the cap on his head.

       “Southern Nevada is a great place,” continued Moore. “I want you all to get into the spirit of the place. You know, cowboy boots and all that. I’ve really developed an appreciation for bolo ties.”

       Several people chuckled at the thought of the CCSN president coming to work wearing cowboy boots and a bolo tie. Moore smiled. “Southern Nevada has got to be a great place if 6,000 people are moving here each month. But all those new people mean that there’s room for lots of innovation, and lots of new ideas. Take our great new governor, Kenny Guinn. A lot of people said that Republicans don’t care about education. Boy, did he prove them wrong! His Millennium Scholarships are going to make it possible for thousands more kids to go to college than ever before. Anyone with a “B” average gets a scholarship. What an idea!

       “I know that some people criticized the scheme,” Moore continued, “claiming that we’re not going to have enough space here at CCSN for all those new students, with our budget as tight as it is. But this is part of the governor’s secret plan. It’s a Trojan horse to attack budget limitations. The governor knows that we’re going to need a lot of money to expand our colleges to meet the surge in enrollment. He knows that this is the way he’s finally going to be able to get a tax increase passed by the legislature. It’s a brilliant plan!”

       My jaw dropped in astonishment. “Mike Green was right,” I thought to myself. “This guy is crazy if he thinks that a Republican governor has a secret plan to raise taxes!”

       “Anyway,” continued Moore, “I’m here to welcome you all to CCSN. Since I took over running this college four years ago, I’ve tried to instill in everyone our new motto, ‘creating opportunities, changing lives.’ I take this really seriously. I’m trying to build an institution that breaks all the rules. We need to reinvent education, to innovate, to try new things. And Bob here” – he gestured toward Vice President Silverman – “Bob has told me that you’re all really impressive people who will contribute a lot to this college. So I’m offering you this challenge: don’t be afraid to take risks. Try new things, and work as hard as you can to create more opportunities for your students, and to change their lives.”

       There was a big round of applause. Moore smiled and held up his hands. “Thank you,” he said. “But now it’s time for you to talk, and for me to listen. So this is what we’re going to do. We’ll go around the room, and I want each of you to introduce yourself, tell us your name and where you’re from, and then tell us what you like about living in southern Nevada, and what you like about teaching at CCSN.”

       One by one the new faculty members spoke. I only half-listened. I was too busy thinking about what I would say. I had a sense that this was a pivotal moment for me. I had taken risks and tried new things to create opportunities for my students, just as Moore had urged us all to do. I realized that this was probably going to be my only chance to tell Moore in person that I was inspired by the same vision. I thought long and hard about what I was going to say. Finally my turn came.

       “My name is Lee Miller,” I said, scanning the faces in the crowd. “I got my Ph.D. at UCLA, and I taught for a while at UCLA and at a couple of colleges in Tokyo, Japan before coming to CCSN.” I heard some murmurs in the audience. People were impressed with my credentials. Most of the speakers who had preceded me had only masters degrees – not Ph.D.s – and their degrees came from institutions less well-known than UCLA.

       I grinned awkwardly, embarrassed, and continued. “What do I like about Nevada? As a political science instructor, what I like the most is how accessible the politicians are here. If I was still in California, there’s no way that a U.S. senator would come to talk to my classes. But not in Nevada. Senator Reid came twice to speak to my students this year. That’s one of the great things about living here in Nevada.”

       The audience was paying close attention, but I hardly noticed. By this point, my heart was racing. “What do I like about teaching at CCSN? The thing I like the most is the way that President Moore encourages us faculty to try new things. I took this to heart, and with the help of Senator Reid, I organized a trip to Europe for this summer. Students on this trip are going to meet with officials from the European Union, NATO, and other important institutions. They’re going to learn first-hand about European politics.”

       President Moore shifted his weight, catching my eye. He was leaning forward, listening intently. That made me nervous. I shifted my gaze to the faculty members in the audience, and continued. “When some students were having trouble coming up with enough money to pay the cost of the trip, I tried an innovative approach. I asked the CCSN Student Government to help out by providing some funds. Just yesterday they approved the money, and now a bunch of needy students can go on this trip. One of them is a young woman named Razije. She’s an Albanian from Yugoslavia, and she’s really looking forward to our visit to the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal.” The war in Kosovo, sparked by Yugoslav atrocities against ethnic Albanians, had just ended. There is a big airforce base just outside Las Vegas, and the airmen stationed there had played a major role in the Kosovo conflict.

       “So, what do I like about CCSN?” I asked in closing. “What I like the most is that President Moore has created an environment that encouraged me to try all these new things.”

       The room erupted with cheers and thunderous applause. I blushed and walked toward my seat. Across the room, I noticed that Vice President Silverman’s face had turned beet red.

       As people were leaving, several congratulated me on the great work I had done. Then Silverman came up to me. “This has gone much too far!” he hissed. “The chair of the Board of Regents called me up last night and chewed me out for an hour and a half!”

       I gasped.

       “You’d better be at my office first thing on Monday morning!” snarled Silverman. Then he stomped off.

Read these exciting excerpts:   

New Faculty Orientation
The Stripper
Brunch with President Moore
Who You Are Speaks Louder Than Anything You Say

Teaching Amidst The Neon Palm Trees

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