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Junior College Follies

May 5, 2004

For most people working in private industry, the everyday life of working on a college campus would seem like some sort of alternative Kafkaesque universe. The backstabbing, betrayals, and bureaucratic baloney are so commonplace that scandal and waste are barely newsworthy items.

And when it comes higher education follies, the Community College of Southern Nevada (CCSN) gives any institution a run for its money. It's hard to imagine the scope of nonsense ongoing at CCSN. The school has continually made news during the past few years for a variety of questionable activities. There are so many transgressions a person tends to forget them, and chalk them up to business as usual. That this must be how all junior colleges are run.

Teaching Amidst the Neon Palm Trees by Lee Ryan Miller tells the story of one professor's struggle at CCSN and will enlighten readers to the waste inherent in a system that constantly requires taxpayers to shovel in more and more money to keep it operating at peak inefficiency.

Professor Miller doesn't make for a sympathetic hero unfortunately. He's a whinny leftist political science instructor who constantly makes it clear that he's underpaid, under appreciated, constantly broke and without dependable transportation (he tells of two instances when his car either didn't start or died inside the first 16 pages of the book). When he was not assigned any classes to teach during the summer months he applied for unemployment benefits. In a letter to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Miller wrote; "The state unemployment insurance law is mean-spirited. The state of Nevada should not penalize people solely because they wish to devote their lives to educating their fellow Nevadans." Do you think he has a sense of entitlement?

When he hit town in 1997, Miller applied at both UNLV and CCSN to teach either political science or economics and quickly landed a job as an adjunct professor teaching economics at both. Miller, whose PHD in political science is from UCLA, writes that he had a great rapport with his students. In an example of how he reached his economics students he writes; "They loved my 'Star Trek' explanation of federal open market operations: 'The "Federation" has its origins in twentieth century America. Where we know it as the "Federal Reserve" or "Fed," for short. It rules the galaxy through its power over the money supply. Here's how they do it. The Fed sells some bonds. Someone buys these bonds, and the money paid to the Fed for the bonds, from our perspective, ceases to exist. It seems to disappear into another dimension. As a result, the money supply shrinks.'"

Oh my, that analysis is really something to be proud of. Beam me up, Hans Hoppe.

But, Miller's story really begins when he is hired full-time by CCSN in 1998 to teach political science. Miller writes that he "dazzled the committee with [his] insights into the federal campaign finance system in the U.S." His "insight" was that it costs a lot of money to win a congressional seat. Wow. No wonder the selection committee was impressed.

It took weeks for CCSN to offer Miller the job however, despite individual members of the selection committee telling him privately that he had their recommendation for the position. Why? Miller keeps this a deep, dark secret until the end of the book. But, it took phone calls from Democratic Senator Harry Reid (Miller's girlfriend worked for Reid), and Nevada Legislator Kathy Von Tobel (who had taken one of Miller's classes) for the CCSN brass to hire Dr. Miller, because they "had gotten it into their heads that spring to hire a Hispanic for the political science position," fellow professor Mike Green told Miller later.

The department already had a Hispanic instructor (in a department of four), but evidently that wasn't enough. Despite no qualified Hispanic applicants, Bob Silverman CCSN Senior Vice President almost decided to cancel the search and start over again rather than hire a qualified white male.

Once on the job, Miller didn't see himself as merely a political science instructor. "I tried to cajole and inspire students into becoming more active participants in the political process," writes Miller. In fact, one of Miller's assignments required students to either register to vote or write and turn in a paragraph explaining why they chose not to register. His students, being ever pragmatic, spent the two minutes to register rather than write a paragraph articulating any dissatisfaction they might have had for the democratic process. Miller registered hundreds of students, while only one 60-year-old student turned in a no-register paragraph.

Professor Miller also required his students to "engage in some sort of 'political participation activity.'" Thus, Miller generated plenty of volunteers for political candidates in southern Nevada as well as candidates for student government at CCSN. Miller didn't see his mission as educating students. As he writes: "I enjoy teaching, but what really thrilled me about my job was the opportunity to replace apathy with interest in the political system. I measured my success as a teacher not by the quality of my student's work, but by the passion that they developed."

Much of the book is devoted to Miller's attempt to gain approval and funding for a European political tour. His proposal was to take a group of students to Europe during the summer to meet with officials of the European Union.

The number of people that play a roll in the twists and turns of Miller's project is so long that the author provides a helpful "Cast of Characters" section for the reader's reference. Anyone who has been forced to deal with the multiple fiefdoms and overbearing bureaucracy on a college campus will empathize with Miller's quest, described as "A Crime Against the Bureaucracy" the title of Chapter IX.

The college ultimately issued Miller a "NOTICE OF NONREAPPOINMENT because of [his] unprofessional behavior with the professionals of this College and our System," according to a letter from CCSN Senior Vice President Bob Silverman.

In other words Miller was fired over petty jealousies and not kissing the right rear-ends in the right order.

It was CCSN President Richard Moore along with Silverman that didn't like Professor Miller. Miller had unintentionally upstaged Moore at a New Faculty Brunch held at the Las Vegas Country Club. After he had been fired, Miller's attorney told him, "They have no accusations of wrong doing. [CCSN Assistant General Counsel Karl] Armstrong said that you had just 'pissed off Silverman and Moore,' and therefore they decided to get rid of you."

It was at that New Faculty Brunch in 1999 that Richard Moore made a prescient statement concerning Nevada's state budget that went unreported at the time. During his speech, Moore heaped accolades on Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn and Guinn's Millennium Scholarships that go to any Nevada high school graduate with a "B" average attending a state college. Moore told the audience that Guinn's secret plan was to use the Millennium Scholarships (which are funded with tobacco settlement money) as "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," Moore said. "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!"

Professor Miller wrote that he thought Moore was crazy to think that a Republican governor could have a secret plan to raise taxes. But, Moore had it exactly right. Four years latter, the Nevada Legislature passed $833 million in new taxes, close to the $1 billion that Governor Guinn proposed. At the same time, the Legislature increased the CCSN budget by $47 million, a 46.5 percent increase.

However, Moore was not at CCSN to spend the money. Moore left CCSN to become the President of the new Nevada State College at Henderson for a salary of $175,000, while he was under investigation by the Nevada Attorney General for wrongdoing while at CCSN. The AG reported that enrollment padding under Moore had included a scheme to rent union halls and hire union personnel to teach apprenticeship classes that union members needed to take, so that the union members could be counted toward college enrollment figures.

The college claims to have 32,000 students enrolled. Yet, a May 16, 2003 Las Vegas Review Journal story indicated that only 1,600 students were eligible to participate in last years commencement exercises. That's not exactly a rip-roaring graduation rate. Of course the school receives funding based upon its enrollment, not its graduation rate.

Mr. Moore subsequently resigned as President of the Nevada State College for improprieties there, and currently teaches business and economics to a dozen or so students at the college for a salary of $90,000 per year.

You will be happy to know that professor Miller was able to find a position with Cypress College in southern California where he is presumably motivating students to vigorously support democracy. He writes that he is making 42 percent more than he did at CCSN but that the place is "not entirely free of tyrannical administrators or back-stabbing colleagues."

As for the author of this review, I was turned down by CCSN for an adjunct economics instructor position in 1995 despite having a letter of recommendation from a CCSN board member and teaching experience at the University of Nevada Reno. My rejection letter stated; "We have offered the position to another candidate whose overall qualifications are more in line with our needs at this time." I always suspected that it was a mistake to mention in my application letter that I had earned my masters degree under Murray Rothbard. But maybe it was as simple as the college needing an instructor who wasn't a white male.

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