Monday, February 3, 2014

“Pockets of Excellence”

UNLV will never compete with the major universities, that is Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, UCLA and Arizona for two reasons:  number one, it wasn’t formed until 1956, so it started 75 years late, and number two, whereas cash was aplenty in starting and supporting the growth of the other schools, UNLV has never had any money.

But that doesn’t mean that UNLV cannot pick specialized and limited areas to concentrate its efforts and finances to be the best in the world.  Harvard isn’t number one in every education category; nor is Berkeley, Stanford, Yale, or Michigan.  All of the “great” schools have picked “pockets of excellence” in which to specialize and become world leaders.

The Boyd School of Law at UNLV is world-class, and the Black Mountain Institute, already a leading international center for creative writers and scholars, has the potential to become a one-of-a-kind institution. Beverly and I don’t give our money to spread among all of UNLV’s endeavors.  We’ve given our money to Black Mountain Institute because we believe that with relative limited resources, it can become the best in the world in what it offers.

Over the next two weeks, I’m going to point out various “pockets of excellence” at UNLV.  You may find it very comforting and gratifying to know that if you invest in one of these “pockets,” that you will drive UNLV into world leadership in those limited areas.


  1. You are dreaming Jim. The Boyd School of Law is a mediocre law school, one of a pack of law law schools just a bit over the live of being alphebetized and separated by only a few points. At around fifty points, it is still about fifty percentage points away from the leader, Yale at 100 points. Still, quite an achievement for a new law school and one that improves each year but hardly world class and not even among the top US schools. The top schools in the US do not just have pockets of excellence -- meaning among the best, not among the mediocre -- but provide generally excellent education in all of their departments and schools. The Las Vegas community has failed to support excellent education at UNLV. UNLV needs to build on a core of fifty endowed chairs, probably costing $250 million. But none of this money has come forward from either private donors or the state. USC raised $3 billion in a few years, yet it took UNLV about ten(?) to raise just $500 million. USC has enormous competition from three other truly world class universities and many other colleges and universities in Southern California. We are the only game in town. Southern California and Southern Nevada probably have similar per capita wealth. Not coincidentally, you failed as Chancellor to raise the big money. Jawboning does not seem to work. Coming to grips with UNLV's weakness and the disrespect for education in Nevada would certainly be a better strategy to raise the university's stature than the decades of hype and deceit from which UNLV has suffered. We are a weak university in a community that has turned its back on education. The environment of the university does not respect scholarship; the community does not support the university; the benefits and pay at UNLV are far below what is necessary to attract the best talent; and Las Vegas is not a good community to raise children -- a lousy public education system, a deficient medical system, a cultural emptiness and business, civic and political leaders that often seem like predators and buffoons -- unfortunate avatars of the spirit of Las Vegas. The dreaminess of unreasonable goals and the endless hype that we are achieving them only serves to narcotize efforts to deal with serious problems. Jim, you did not provide sufficient leadership as chancellor and you are not doing so now.

  2. Oops. Forgot to sign my note. UNLVprof is William M. Epstein