Instructor’s piece slams UNLV
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Smatresk opposes writer’s opinion, says university has more than enough to be proud of
In his latest op-ed for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, UNLV social work professor William Epstein indicts thousands of people in the Nevada System of Higher Education — students, faculty, the UNLV president, the chancellor and the board of regents.
In keeping with a trend of writing such pieces against the administration of each successive university president, beginning with Carol Harter and including David B. Ashley, Epstein has blamed UNLV President Neal Smatresk for allegedly ignoring what Epstein sees as the dismal state of higher education in Nevada.
The new article, published at on the top of the R-J’s Sunday Viewpoints section, is called “The front line of decline: A new low for higher education.”
“Dr. Epstein had written a sweeping indictment of his colleagues, of our students and of UNLV and I am dumbfounded in general,” Smatresk said in response to the publication.
Epstein said that the problems he sees at UNLV are both systemic and a result of repeated hiring of bad leaders, but he asserts that money is the root issue.
“The underlying problem is the university is terribly underfunded,” he said.
But he stands by his claims that in its effort to foster public-private partnerships, UNLV sells itself as a commercial consultant, to the demise of its obligations to scholarship.
“A poor-quality university — such as we have in UNLV — provides neither economic stimulus, adequate job preparation, education for citizenship, nor a cultural resource for its community,” he wrote.
In an R-J opinion article called “A face of education,” published on Sept. 14, 2008, Epstein railed against what he said was a reprehensible academic climate evidenced by what he saw as low showings for faculty publications and bloated administrative salaries.
“Repeating the mistakes of the previous UNLV leadership,” he wrote in that article, “the new president (Ashley) initiated another planning year upon his arrival. Asking an unproductive faculty — the very people who contrived the sorry condition of UNLV — to engage in an extensive academic planning process confesses to a bankrupt imagination.”
Epstein still said he feels, as he has written for years, that UNLV faculty lazily disregard their academic responsibilities to publish in reputable journals. He argued in his Sunday submission that the number of articles published by UNLV faculty in 2009 in journals included in the Thomson Reuters ISI Web of Knowledge, which he cites as the “gold standard” for such publications, amounted to only about half an article per faculty member.
He said the faculty published about 450 articles last year.
When asked how many he published last year, he said, “None. Maybe one. I’m not sure.”
But, he explained, he has published more than 40 single-authored articles and seven single-authored books in his career.
“Here,” he said, “faculty are publishing in very marginal journals,” referring to publications outside that Thomson Reuters index.
He claimed that a culture of disregard for academic excellence — not a failure of process — is responsible for the problem.
“Everything outside academics is run beautifully,” Epstein said. “The grounds are beautiful. The mail is delivered on time.”
“This is characteristic of the anti-academic climate at this university,” he said.
He asserted that Smatresk is in denial about the school’s lack of quality.
“[Smatresk] bloviates about the school’s world-class reputation and its ‘brilliant scholars’,” Epstein wrote. “Yet UNLV does not appear on the recently compiled list of the world’s 400 premier universities nor among the first, second or third tier of American universities. It is on the fourth tier of American universities only because there is no fifth tier.”
With the elimination of the third- and fourth-tier designations, UNLV has become a second-tier school.
But Smatresk opted to let Epstein’s personal attacks fall and maintained that excellent work is being done at UNLV.
“[Epstein] has misreported the number of publications at this university, which is nearly double his estimate,” Smatresk said, “and his insinuation that we have no talented faculty or students is abhorrent.”
Epstein wrote opposing Chancellor Dan Klaich’s support of extending Smatresk’s contract to make him UNLV’s permanent president and suggested that the state of Nevada disband the board of regents in response to that body’s request for a 3 percent increase in state funding for the next biennium.
Smatresk opposed all of Epstein’s claims except one — that UNLV is underfunded.
“I can agree only that … funding cuts have hurt us deeply,” Smatresk said, “and I have worked steadily since my arrival at UNLV to communicate the impacts these cuts have had on our campus community.”
But Epstein called out Smatresk’s public applause of successes at the university and his recent foray into reaching out to students through YouTube as “shameless self-promotion.” He said the practices are as good as asking for more budget reductions.
“They obscure the dire condition of UNLV, marking the refusal to confront prevailing political and social preferences in defense of quality education,” Epstein wrote. “The inappropriate boastfulness actually justifies the cuts.”
Smatresk maintains that despite financial setbacks, UNLV is a rising star among American research universities.
“I am saddened that [Epstein] feels the need to express himself in such a negative way about his colleagues and our students,” Smatresk said. “There are thousands of success stories in this university that would make anyone proud of our achievements.”