The traditional argument about the future of UNLV has been between what we’ll call the Harvard of the West model and the Cal State Bakersfield of the East model: Either secure the funding, somehow, to continue UNLV’s efforts to become a top-tier research university (maybe not the Harvard of the West, but at least the Utah of Nevada) or accept the realities of funding, community and population and steer UNLV toward becoming a solid all-access four-year college, something like the Cal State schools. Regardless of how that question is answered, though, the fact remains that Las Vegas suffers from a lamentable lack of institutional diversity in higher education.
So why not create a good private liberal arts college here? It would fill a much-needed educational niche for Las Vegas kids who don’t want to leave the Valley; it would keep local talent in town; it would draw unique minds—both students and academics—to the area; and it would create competitive and cooperative synergies with UNLV. Most importantly, it would give much-needed emphasis on the importance of a traditional liberal arts education.
We’ve increasingly come to think of higher education as advanced job-training; this is understandable both from the point of view of the student (who, after all, is going to need a job) and the community (which is going to need the student to get a job). But there are two good arguments for old-fashioned emphasis on the arts and sciences. First, the specific tasks we perform on the job are evolving so rapidly that the best preparation for many jobs is a trained mind that can think logically and creatively about a wide variety of tasks. Second, when we look at the level of public discourse in recent years, maybe it’s a good time to embrace the hoary notion that higher education prepares critical-thinking citizens capable of dealing with and appreciating a complicated, maddening, and occasionally beautiful world.