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September 30, 2014

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UNLV provost defends stance in Hoppe case

UNLV's academic provost defended his positions on academic freedom and academic responsibility before the faculty senate Tuesday, insisting that while academic freedom is foremost, "there are no rights without corresponding duties."

Ray Alden, UNLV's provost and executive vice president, voluntarily appeared before the senate at noon Tuesday in the Moyer Student Union to answer faculty questions on academic freedom.

The UNLV administrator came under fire last month after he instructed economics professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe "to cease mischaracterizing opinion as objective fact" in the classroom. The instruction came after a year-long investigation into Hoppe's comments about homosexuals' spending and saving habits during one of his lectures to students.

UNLV President Carol Harter has since dropped the discrimination complaint against Hoppe, but his lawyers are still negotiating the case with Interim Chancellor Jim Rogers. They want the university system to fully exonerate Hoppe from any wrongdoing and to enact new policies on academic freedom so that others professors don't go through anything similar to what Hoppe endured, Gary Peck, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said.

The maelstrom led the UNLV faculty senate to invite Alden to speak and to pass a resolution Tuesday affirming academic freedom at the university.

Alden said he is a firm believer in academic freedom, but that freedom does not excuse a professor from scholarly standards of accuracy, professionalism and objectivity. He quoted extensively from the American Association of University Professors "red book," which discusses in detail the need to balance academic freedom with academic responsibility.

Alden said it is the faculty's responsibility to govern each other when complaints arise, but that the Hoppe situation has shown a need to speed up the investigation process, to better establish who may serve on that faculty committee, and to establish criteria to aid faculty in deciding what falls under academic freedom and what falls under academic responsibility.

Alden and Harter, in meetings with the faculty senate's executive committee, had already agreed to let a representative from the faculty senate and the senate's academic freedom committee serve on any future committees.

Professors in the senate said they were confused over what constituted a hostile work environment, which is what the university originally accused Hoppe of creating with his comments about gays.

Faculty senator Bill Robinson, an economics professor, said Hoppe's comments were clearly within the realm of economic theory.

"I don't see how what he said in class is so obviously a violation of academic responsibility and not an issue of academic freedom," Robinson told Alden.

Because there are 20 different economic theories for any one topic, Robinson said its critical that professors have the authority to choose what to cover.

"The points Hans is going to pick are 180 degrees from what I'm going to pick but I think that is a good thing," Robinson said.

Alden said he was unable to speak specifically about Hoppe's case, but he said a hostile work environment could involve singling out a student from a protected group or perpetuating negative stereotypes about a protective group without substantiating them with facts.

Jane McCarthy, faculty senate chairwoman, said she is working with the Boyd School of Law to host a seminar on academic freedom issues to be able to better refine UNLV's policies.

"We need to be proactive and use this as a time to work through these procedures so everyone's rights are protected," McCarthy said.

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