Las Vegas Sun

September 30, 2014

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Former student pushes for action against professor

The former UNLV student who filed a discrimination complaint against a professor said Monday night that the university should place greater emphasis on academic responsibility.

Michael Knight is seeking support from the UNLV Student Senate. To that end, he presented the group with the confidential findings of the academic review committee that recommended action against economics professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe for comments he made to a class last year about the spending habits of homosexuals.

"People have not really understood the entire story," said Knight, who graduated with an economics degree last summer and now lives outside Seattle. "I hope this brings closure."

But the university already considers the matter closed. UNLV President Carol Harter decided on Feb. 18 to drop the discrimination complaint against Hoppe and remove a letter of reprimand from his personnel file.

Knight, who was a student in Hoppe's class, complained that Hoppe taught prejudice as though it were fact.

"You have academic freedom to present your material," Knight said. "But if your facts don't back up the material, you've just thrown the whole lecture out the door."

Knight said the university caved to political pressure and asked the Student Senate to consider at least a symbolic resolution supporting his complaint.

Some student senators said after the meeting that they would consider a resolution supporting Knight's complaint.

"It makes me sick to my stomach that an instructor with those negative beliefs and homophobic comments would come into a classroom and teach them," said John Piro, a student senator from the College of Urban Affairs.

Marc Roth, an engineering major, said he wanted to sit down with other senators and review the material before proposing any resolution. Roth's first impression, he said, is that the university ultimately made the right decision.

"They (professors) have to have academic freedom, and it doesn't seem that the evidence they're trying to use against him (Hoppe) is relevant to what he's teaching in the classroom," Roth said.

"Professors need to be able to say what needs to be said. ... That's why we come to college is to have the chance to explore every possibility."

Knight lodged his initial complaint after a Hoppe class lecture on "time preference" theory. Hoppe said homosexuals do not plan for the future and spend rather than save money because they don't have children, according to the complaint. Knight alleged that Hoppe's comments were rooted in a personal bias and meant to be inflammatory.

"He wouldn't have brought up the comments in lecture if he didn't want to get a rise out of the students," said Knight, who is gay and belonged to a gay fraternity.

Knight's primary evidence is what he said is the administrative review committee's findings and supporting material in the complaint against Hoppe.

In the memo, dated May 7 of last year, the committee concluded that Hoppe's behavior created a "hostile, intimidating, or offensive education environment with respect to sexual orientation."

The committee's report notes that Hoppe "conveyed a patronizing and hostile attitude towards homosexuals" during committee meetings and advocated the "expulsion of homosexuals from society" in his most recent book, "Democracy: The God That Failed."

The committee was also not impressed with the materials Hoppe submitted in support of his homosexual example. In addition to more scholarly articles, Hoppe also submitted articles from the right-leaning Family Research Council.

"At a minimum, it is a fair observation that Dr. Hoppe failed to persuade the members of the review committee that his use of homosexuals and heterosexuals ... served any credible or necessary academic purpose," the committee wrote.

Officials from the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Hoppe, were not available for comment Monday night. Hoppe has declined the Sun's previous interview requests.

In letters included with the committee's decision, Hoppe wrote that the fault rested with Knight for misinterpreting Hoppe's lecture.

"That an illustratively supported statement of fact was construed as a derogatory statement was the student's inference," Hoppe wrote. "I did not say anything derogatory."

Hoppe also wrote that the complaint proceedings were causing him distress and taking away from his work. He asked for a yearlong sabbatical, which was denied.

In her decision dismissing the complaint and reversing the committee's findings, Harter said the primary concern was one of academic freedom.

"In the balance between freedoms and responsibilities, and where there may be ambiguity between the two, academic freedom must, in the end, be foremost," Harter wrote.

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