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July 23, 2014

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Effort to punish UNLV professor gains exposure

An academic freedom dispute at UNLV is drawing worldwide attention.

UNLV economics professor Hans-Herman Hoppe's fight with UNLV administrators has been picked up by Fox News' "Tongue Tied" column on academic freedom and by several Web bloggers, including instapundit.com.

There is also an Internet campaign that Hoppe's fellow libertarians began over the weekend to pressure the university to dismiss the case against Hoppe, who claims he is being unfairly punished over comments he made about the spending tendencies of gays during a lecture last March.

On Hoppe's personal Web site, hanshoppe.com, and on the Ludwig von Mises Institute economic blog, blog.mises.org, there is contact information listed for UNLV President Carol Harter, executive vice president and provost Ray Alden, the Nevada Board of Regents and the University and Community College System of Nevada main office -- and readers are encouraged to reach out and defend Hoppe.

The writer of the Mises blog, self-described libertarian writer and Houston attorney Stephan Kinsella, says that Hoppe is being attacked by the "thought police" or "PC (political correctness) police." He encourages them to contact UNLV officials and "Let the Army of Liberty mount a resounding defense of our besieged champion of liberty!"

The media attention has made Hoppe retreat from talking about the issue, his wife, Margaret Hoppe, said Monday. The Hoppes referred questions to the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which is petitioning UNLV on behalf of the economics professor.

Hoppe, 55, has taught at UNLV since 1986 and is a fully tenured professor, his wife said. His Web site describes him as an Austrian school economist and a libertarian/anarcho-capitalist philosopher. He is a distinguished fellow with the Mises Institute and editor-at-large of the Journal of Libertarian Studies.

ACLU attorney Allen Lichtenstein sent a letter on Friday to UNLV's associate vice president for human resources and affirmative action, demanding that the university stop its attempts to punish Hoppe for his comments.

Lichtenstein claims that UNLV's proposed action against Hoppe violates his First Amendment right, his right to academic freedom and his right to due process.

"Whether you agree with his controversial ideas or disagree with them, he has the right to say them," Lichenstein said.

The issue arose last March after a student complained that one of Hoppe's lectures in an upper level, undergraduate money and banking course on "time preference" was offensive, Lichtenstein said. Hoppe was explaining how different demographic groups tend to plan for the future and others do not.

Time preference is a widely disseminated economic theory out of the Austrian School of Economics, but its stereotypes have caused controversy in the past. Hoppe lays out his version of the theory in his book "Democracy: The God That Failed. The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy and Natural Order."

Essentially, the theory states that some groups have a high time preference, meaning they value instant gratification and are unable to wait for future offerings, and others have a low time preference, and are therefore willing to wait and save for the future.

Hoppe gave several general examples, Lichtenstein said, noting that young adults and the elderly tend to spend money in the short-term and don't plan for the future as much other adults, and that couples without children spend more than couples with children.

One of Hoppe's examples was that homosexuals tend to spend more and save less than heterosexuals, partially because they are less likely to have children and because they indulge in riskier behavior.

After receiving the informal complaint, Hoppe told the class that he was only talking in generalities based on economic theories, and that just because something is generally true does not mean that it is always true, Lichtenstein said.

Hoppe's explanation did not appease the student, who then made a formal complaint to UNLV officials, Lichtenstein said. After months of hearings, officials told Hoppe last week that they would be issuing a letter of reprimand and asked him to give up his next pay increase.

Lichtenstein's letter to UNLV asks that the complaint be dismissed, that any reference to the incident be expunged from Hoppe's file, and that no further action be taken against Hoppe. It threatens further legal action if the demands are not met.

Gary Peck, executive director of the ACLU Nevada, said the case was a clear violation of academic freedom at a university that already has a "checkered record" of violating free speech. The ACLU has gone head to head with UNLV on several past cases, including debates over whether UNLV's "free speech zones" are constitutional.

"We don't subscribe to Hans' theories, but academic freedom means nothing if it doesn't protect the right of professors to present scholarly ideas that are relevant to their curricula even if they are controversial and upset people," Peck said.

Both Lichtenstein and Peck said that while the student's feelings were important, they should not be used to stifle constitutionally protected speech.

UNLV attorney Richard Linstrom said he could not comment on the case because both student complaints and professor disciplinary action is confidential.

In general, however, Linstrom said the university supports the academic freedom and has no "prior restraint" restrictions on what they may say in the classroom. But those rights must be used responsibly, Linstrom said.

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