Higher education in Nevada is dying. It’s a slow and excruciating demise, an ancient Chinese torture, death by a thousand cuts. The losses so far: eight departments and programs, 100 full-time faculty, at least 300 staff positions, plus 30 more layoffs in the pipeline. Classified employee salaries have been cut by 6 percent; nontenured faculty salaries by 5 percent. Tenured faculty are slated for similar reductions. And make no mistake: Students are suffering, the undergraduates hard-pressed to get into required courses, graduate students burning out by teaching two-course loads and trying to finish their degrees while barely subsisting.
UNLV is already set back at least 10 years in its mission to build a nationally respected school. With further anticipated cuts, our university may be butchered to what it was 25 years ago—little more than a glorified, four-year community college, the butt of bad jokes on late-night TV. Yes, times are hard and business is bad. But hostility to public investment in education—stoked by editorials in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that treat teachers like bums—is ruining our state. It’s time to stop the bleeding.
My modest proposal: Let’s give the “no new taxes” gang what they apparently want. Let’s sell UNLV. Put it all on the block: land, buildings, infrastructure, faculty and remaining programs. The land alone is valued at $600 million; replacement cost for buildings about $2 billion. Let’s guesstimate that the intellectual assets and “the brand” might be worth as much, with UNLV’s top-ranked College of Hotel Administration the jewel in the crown. Let’s put a price tag of $6 billion on the whole schmear, as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Who would buy? The People’s Republic of China, that’s who. I’ve delivered lectures at and visited Chinese universities, so I’ve seen how China is doing all it can to invest in education and build for the future. For at least 1,800 years—since the Han dynasty originated a civil service examination and ranked scholar system—the Chinese people have proven they revere higher learning and honor the relationship between quality education and the accumulation of wealth. American manufacturing was shipped off to China long ago, and Las Vegas hotel-casino companies are just completing multi-billion- dollar resorts in Macau. Why shouldn’t UNLV be the first American university to catch the wave? China needs an American university. In China, students are taught to be followers, to repeat verbatim what professors tell them, and the authoritarian government discourages creative thinking. At CHINA-UNLV, we could teach our Chinese students how to be creative, how to reason independently, how to stand out from the crowd. Plus, there’s that priceless Hotel College to help China build its tourism industry into the best on the planet. And what better place than the 340 primo acres of the UNLV campus to park a few loose coins from those mountains of American trade-deficit cash?
Six billion dollars: Imagine the joy that check would bring to the no-big-government crowd. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation has found that every year for the past three decades Nevada has had one of the three lowest combined state and local tax rates in the nation. But China’s purchase would permit a whole new level of public parsimony. Here at last, a guarantee of no new taxes! Six billion would take care of that looming $3 billion budget shortfall, with enough left over for the next shortfall. Enemies of public investment could delight that the investment has already been made—by the Chinese public.
Faculty would benefit, too. We could resume developing the research and teaching missions that define excellence instead of watching the programs we’ve built bleed to death. Every faculty member would get a graduate assistant and generous research funding. But faculty would have to produce. There’s no real tenure system in China; contracts from three to 12 years are as secure as it gets. Professors who don’t show results will be shown the door. With such increased pressure—reporting to a Chinese government committee—CHINA-UNLV would earn a top-tier ranking.
And just imagine the donations to a CHINA-UNLV endowment. Does anybody believe Steve Wynn, Sheldon Adelson and the MGM board won’t drop checks for sums the UNLV Foundation never dreamed of when they’re hit up by officers of a government that controls travel visas for Macau-bound gamblers? You can bet Nevada’s casino-mogul cheapskates will donate like never before. CHINA-UNLV would teach mainly Chinese students. They would come to the U.S. on visas and attend for about $1,000 a year plus expenses—average for a public university in China. Only the brightest would be admitted. Professors would have to adjust curriculum radically to better prepare our smart Chinese students. We’d all have to take a stab at learning Mandarin. But at least CHINA-UNLV wouldn’t have to change the colors of team uniforms—just stitch those five gold stars from the Chinese flag to Runnin’ Rebel red and we’re good to go. The Chinese flag would replace the American flag in the Thomas & Mack Center, and fans would sing “The March of the Volunteers” instead of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” For years, American business leaders have sung to China’s tune, so why shouldn’t we?
What about Nevada students? Well, they could also attend CHINA-UNLV, provided they pay tuition at the rates of a good private school: $20,000-$30,000 a year, the price rising as the ranking improves. Hard-working Nevadans dreaming that college can get them or their kids a better shake in life will have to find a different dream; China’s investment won’t change our state’s unwillingness to invest in its working poor or middle class. So Nevada students can do what the power elite, state leaders and the editors of the R-J want them to do: Learn to deal cards, sling cocktails, change sheets in hotel rooms or grind away at low-paying service jobs until they either wise up or die trying. In Mandarin, they say it like this: zhù z˘i h˘aoyùn! Good luck!