Academic authoritarians

Patrick Gibbons

With an ample helping of smugness and more than a dash of arrogance, UNLV professors Dr. William M. Epstein and Dr. William N. Thompson whipped up a remarkable attack on the people of Nevada last Sunday in the pages of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Nevada, assert these professors, is a state uniquely populated with morally depraved people — depraved in that they're disinclined to support public services, such as education, in the style to which the profs have long wanted to become accustomed.

Of course the key public policy question, which the profs dutifully ignored, is whether the higher taxes they want would indeed improve public services. In regard to K-12 education, NPRI has dealt with that question many times (see here, here, here, here and here). And on the higher ed front, we've also shown that although Nevada provides heavy subsidies, the graduation rates remain dismally poor.

With respect to taxes, any alleged moral depravity of Nevadans isn't stopping us from paying increasing amounts to the state. And, as Geoffrey Lawrence demonstrated, Nevada is already more than adequately taxed.

Nevertheless, the profs deserve a thank you from every Nevadan. Their publicly disgorged bile, coupled with the disturbing lack of supporting empirical evidence for their allegations, reveals much about the culture inside the higher-education state monopoly that your taxes support. It's a culture where sub-par intellectual work is married to a brazenly smug sense of entitlement.

Taking an offensive tone calculated to insult anyone who chooses to live in the Silver State, the professors assert that Nevada suffers from "a crisis of greed, selfishness and stupidity" that caused state lawmakers facing the worst economic depression in 70 years to pull back on promised government spending.

With no sense of irony, these Ivory Tower academics — whose own incomes depend on transfer payments from taxpayers — scold those same taxpayers as "selfish" and "greedy" because some have the temerity to entertain themselves by gambling their own money. Epstein and Thompson aren't shy about expressing their preferences for a Nevada where residents involuntarily pay, via taxes, for the highbrow entertainment — fine art, music, theatre and dance — that the profs prefer. But what could be more selfish and greedy than elitists taking money from lower-income people to spend on their own entertainment?

The professors' offensive statements don't stop there. They concluded their diatribe with this:

In imitation of the colonial French, the United States might initiate a Foreign Legion, headquartered in Las Vegas. The location is providential, not simply for the desert, the desperate characters and the brothels but for the enormous number of natives who need to be civilized.

Ah, yes — nothing says, "I know better than you" more succinctly than allying yourself with autocratic and racist imperialists who launch campaigns of colonial conquests.

Indifferent to even the simplest resonances of world history, but eager to outrage Nevadans, the pair speaks fondly of an armed force out of Washington that would descend on the Silver State and slap recalcitrant Nevadans into line. That scenario titillates the duo since they see themselves, of course, as part of the "civilizing" force that should never need to seek any bothersome consent from the "natives." The latter — if they know what's good for them — would all instead obediently hand over their earnings and savings to the likes of Epstein and Thompson.

That's the essence of their allusion to the French Foreign Legion. Except that for the two professors, The White Man's Burden turns out to also incorporate a lot of The Smug Academic's Petulance.

Their appeal to autocratic European imperialism is tasteless, but it accurately reflects the essentially authoritarian nature of a world-view that is rampant in academe. There, the sense is strong that other humans are ultimately only raw material for the schemes of planning elites. There, autocratic personalities — unable to muster the sound arguments and empirical evidence that would win public assent — look longingly at the possibility of imposing their will by force.

Although the French Legionnaires had an impressive curriculum vitae as conquerors, they were actually made up of France's undesirables — murderers, thieves, troublemakers and other desperate folks, with no other opportunities.

Thus there's an unintended irony in the professors' effort to compare themselves to the Legionnaires — an unconscious subtext, as it were.

And that subtext, it appears, may well be entirely accurate.

Patrick R. Gibbons is an education policy analyst at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit