Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2019

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Where I Stand:

Brian Greenspun: UNLV now sits on a very short list

“It’s a short list. We’re on it.”

I have been a member of the UNLV Foundation Board of Trustees for a long time. This past week was the best meeting I can remember.

There is no question that our community is well-served by having a growing and going university to help lead our way into the future. Likewise, it is essential for a university to have the backing and support of the community it serves if it is to be successful.

It has taken a long time — going back to the early days of Nevada Southern University — but I think that both Southern Nevada and UNLV are pulling each other in the right direction.

That’s because UNLV is finally on the list of “very high research activity” as reported by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

That is the long way of saying that UNLV, which has struggled for six decades to break into the world of academia against some very long odds, has made it to the big time. There are just 130 schools out of more than 4,000 on this list. And we are one of them!

When Parry Thomas and Jerry Mack led a small group of Las Vegans on a quest to land bank enough land on Maryland Parkway to allow for the future growth of our brand new university, it was a pipe dream to think that one day we would take our place among the top 3 percent of all academic institutions in the country.

When Carol Harter first championed the idea of taking what was then a school known for its basketball team and turning into the kind of institution where higher learning was more than just two words, the community wasn’t quite ready for her message. That’s when Neal Smatresk came along as UNLV’s president and made some moves that would thrust the university forward — the Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West being foremost among them.

UNLV President Len Jessup’s great gift to the university — which for some petty reasons wasn’t returned in kind by the Board of Regents — was to galvanize the Las Vegas community into believing that UNLV could be an academic institution not only worthy of its Las Vegas roots but a leader in making our city an enviable place to live.

And all that came home this past week when acting UNLV President Marta Meana described to the Foundation Board the meaning of Carnegie R1. The short version is it’s a very big deal.

How we recruit faculty and students, how we expand our research efforts and what that means to the economic growth of this region are all positively impacted by the R1 designation. Couple this achievement with UNLV’s quest to reach Top Tier status — which means playing at the very high end of academia for our public university — and it is easy to see that Las Vegas and Las Vegans are hitting their stride toward making UNLV and the education it offers match the world’s perception of Las Vegas itself: simply, the best.

But, of course, we have a way to go and it won’t be easy. It is essential that Las Vegas pushes even harder in its quest to help UNLV reach its goals. Remember, no great community can exist without an even greater university at the center and vice versa. We are in this thing together.

This takes me to the next part of the trustees meeting, which involved one of my favorite new Southern Nevada residents — Athletic Director Desiree Reed Francois — and Rebel football coach Tony Sanchez.

The two of them were encouraging the Foundation — and through the Foundation the community at large — to support the brand new Fertitta Football Complex. That, together with the new Las Vegas Stadium where UNLV will play its home games, portends some big changes in the quality and longevity of the Rebel football program.

One example of that change was their showing off the newly painted Fremont Cannon. It is now Rebel red — as opposed to whatever color UNR uses — because that cannon, which represents the superiority of the Nevada football programs on a yearly basis, was returned to Las Vegas this past year after some considerable drought.

Coach Sanchez in his usual upbeat fashion talked about that cannon and what it really represents. He said he has to teach the young men who come to him that they first must attain success and then — and here’s the hard part — sustain that winning way.

Looking at the cannon in front of us made it crystal clear in my mind that the same holds true for our R1 status and whatever other achievements UNLV has made and will make in the coming years. First we have to attain the success we seek. And, then, it is up to the university and this community that benefits so greatly from it to sustain all of that on a yearly basis.

For, just like that Fremont Cannon, success can be fleeting and it must be fought for and won each and every year. And just like it took multiple UNLV presidents and the people who worked with them many years to achieve some measure of success, it will take the Las Vegas community that much more going forward to make sure UNLV and Las Vegas meet our potential.

Our next stop is just around the corner.

The Nevada Legislature is just about ready to start, and that is where the money is. That is where our future begins.

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.