Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009 | 2 a.m.
History was made at UNLV last week.
When the historians look back at the date and time at which UNLV, Las Vegas, Nevada and the rest of the Mountain West states began to take their rightful place as leaders in the 21st century, I am pretty sure they will look at Sept. 8, 2008, as the day it all began.
There are times and events that occur in each of our lives that we just know will leave lasting impressions. The birth of a child, a wedding day, a long-awaited and much-earned promotion at work — can each portend events that change our.
Last Tuesday’s announcement at UNLV of the Brookings Mountain West Initiative was one of those days. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C. This “think tank” is almost 100 years old and is consistently heralded as Washington’s most influential, most quoted, most trusted institution of its kind. As far as think tanks are concerned, it doesn’t get any better than Brookings.
And last week, Brookings chose UNLV to be its partner!
Here’s where I admit a bias. I am an honorary trustee of the Brookings Institution and invested “up to here” in UNLV. I am not objective when it comes to these two institutions. But, so what? I can still count, I can still understand and I can still believe in the tomorrows that this partnership can make available to Las Vegans.
I can count the number of times in the past few decades when we were told by people who “knew” that Las Vegas had seen its best days, that Las Vegas was going to dry up and blow away and that Las Vegas was going to suffocate from its own stifling inability to lead its residents toward a better future, choosing instead to sacrifice tomorrow for a fancier, yet fleeting, today.
And I understand why that happens, especially now. People are scared, they are worried and they are mad — at someone, anyone — for what has happened to them, to us! It is understandable that, without proper leadership, people allow themselves to wander around, lost in their own concerns and failing to think clearly enough about what must get done so people grow and prosper. And, as is evident in our own state, frustration and ignorance lead to bad decisions at the ballot box, which lead to worse decisions by elected officials.
In light of all this, last week’s announcement was the culmination of some good decisions, some courageous decisions and some extraordinarily insightful decisions.
While all heck was breaking loose in Carson City this year — ideologically induced budget cuts that cared not about higher and lower education in this state — there were some good people at UNLV who kept their heads on straight.
Universities across this country would have given significant portions of their fat endowments for a shot at a partnership with the esteemed Brookings Institution, but that organization’s sights were aimed westward, specifically at Las Vegas. Las Vegas represented the epicenter of what Brookings is convinced will be the new American heartland. What was Chicago in the mid-1800s, Los Angeles in the mid-1900s will be Las Vegas’ turn in the middle part of the 21st century.
And how we get there, what kind of decisions we must make as a community and state in the next few years, and the facts, figures and policy recommendations needed to make those decisions are right in the sweet spot of what Brookings is all about.
The opportunity to study this region from its core, the structure to produce the policy considerations necessary and the ability to push those issues at all levels of government to make the Mountain West states the center of this century’s universe are challenges that excite every scholar in the Brookings family.
Ron Smith and Neal Smatresk saw it all and made this a top priority for UNLV. Strobe Talbott and Bill Antholis at Brookings saw their path westward and pushed hard to make this happen. All that was needed were the resources to bring this to a head when all around us were losing theirs.
Enter the Lincy Foundation and a $14 million gift to UNLV that paved the way for the Brookings-UNLV partnership.
And when we heard the inaugural lectures later that day by Antholis, Mark Muro and Rob Lang, two things happened. It became abundantly clear that UNLV, through this partnership, had stepped up and is on its way to the top of the heap of universities in this region. And it reaffirmed the extraordinary value proposition that Brookings scholars will bring to Las Vegas and the region.
As a start, they brought facts and figures. They brought quality critical thinking about the incredible challenges that are ahead. And they brought ideas and solutions that leave your mouth agape at the very thought of what we could have with just a modicum of leadership.
All that happened on Tuesday. Imagine what we can all do this week!
Brian Greenspun is editor of the Las Vegas Sun.