Monday, February 14, 2005

Hans-Hermann Hoppe vs. UNLV, continued

Below, courtesy of Jeff Tucker (Mises Institute,, is the complete interview Hans Hoppe gave with The Chronicle of Higher Education for an article on the situation at UNLV, as well as the article which resulted. The "Knight" referred to is Michael Knight, the little twerp who originally made the anomymous complaint. (He has his own blog--a pure vanity offering that can be read here for anyone so inclined--mostly a waste of time, except that it does offer some insight into how these fully PC-ized twentysomethings think, and offers a few links to other articles mostly in local publications.)

February 14, 2005
Hoppe Interview: Complete Text Updates

From and to the Chronicle of Higher Education for a published article:

Dear Professor Hoppe, here are some of the questions I'd like to pursue.

1) What do you think of the standard defined by the provost -- that you must "cease mischaracterizing opinion as objective fact in the educational environment"?

I am tempted to reply to the provost's suggestion with a simple quip: Is the alleged categorical distinction between fact and opinion itself a fact or an opinion? I'm certain the provost would be somewhat helpless in answering this question. To this day, there exist vigorous philosophical debates regarding the issue. Things are not as simple as they appear to a bureaucrat's mind.

In any case, most so-called facts in the social sciences are more or less corroborated hypotheses - and so are most opinions (insofar as they concern empirical rather than normative matters). I did not mischaracterize anything in my lecture. This is mere play with words in a desperate attempt on the part of the university to avoid any admission of guilt. They have already backpeddled quite a bit. But they do not dare say that they trampled on my right to free speech and academic freedom. I have received hundreds of letters from all over the world: no one sees this any differently - except UNLV's leadership.

2) But, just for the record: Is there solid empirical literature re: homosexuals and time preferences, or should the public instead regard your comments as reasonable speculation?

In class (as you can also gather from the audio I sent you), the statement was presented as an intuitively plausible hypothesis (if you typically do not have offspring, you typically provide for shorter time periods).

Though I did not speak in class in detail about the subject because it was not the subject of my lecture, there exist of course abundant 'indicators' (some of which are no doubt disputable - after all most propositions of the social sciences are hypotheses) such as lower life expectancy, riskier behavior (as documented by higher incidence of AIDS etc.), and instability of relationships.

3) Did Mr. Knight give you any warning that he was going to file a formal complaint about your comments?

He never spoke to me (and I didn't know who he was until several weeks after the alleged incident). He never warned me about an informal or a formal complaint. He also never asked me to clarify my statement during the lecture.

4) Who sat on the grievance committee that onsidered Mr. Knight's complaint?

The first gievance committee was made up of (3) administrators/bureaucrats: the affirmative action officer, the university code officer, and the student judicial code officer.
The second 'peer' review committee was made up of the dean of the college of natural sciences, a biology professor, the vice-dean of the hotel college and the president of the student government (a hotel school student). To the best of my knowledge no member of the "peer" committee had any qualifications in the area of economic theory.

Please note that only one of the seven committee members was a member of the teaching faculty.

5) What actions do you believe the university should take at this point? Do you anticipate taking formal legal action against the university?

The university should apologize. They must uphold academic freedom which permits and even obliges faculty to discuss controversial matters at variance with 'common wisdom' (and certainly doesn't require we speak only about matters that have passed the test of peer-reviewed wisdom, as the letter from the provost absurdly claims); otherwise, we would never be allowed to express 'original' thought or even speak about on-going research. There exist thousands of ideas that are peer-reviewed but stand in contradiction to and are incompatible with each other. Does the provost realize that science existed even before the printing press and peer-reviewed publications?

The university has acted in violation of my first amendment rights, due process, and its own bylaws. It has severely damaged my reputation as well as my health, and it owes me reasonable compensation for this. The ACLU Nevada, as my legal representative, is prepared to see this through in federal court.

6) The provost's letter says that "you were previously informed in writing regarding similar incidents by your Dean." Could you describe those earlier conflicts?

There has been one previous incident. It concerned an entirely different subject than the present one. The present investigating committees were only provided with the initial complaint, but were NOT informed that after an informal meeting with the then affirmative action officer, that complaint was completely dismissed. In fact, during the meeting, the affirmative action officer at one point suggested, before a witness, that I was a Nazi, upon which I ended the conversation and wrote a letter of complaint to the university president (currently one and the same), who did not even acknowledge receipt of my hand-delivered letter. The university would be
embarrassed if this whole matter were fully revealed. In telling a half-truth, however, UNLV has tried to smear me.

7) In a better world, how would a university manage conflicts like this one? If you were the president of a new university in an environment with no external government constraints, what would you tell students to do if they found a professor's arguments unpersuasive and/or obnoxious?

I would inform students that they have the right and duty to ask and challenge their professors. I would inform students about the nature of a university, the principle of and reasons for the institution of academic freedom, and the meaning of the word professor. Further, I would tell them that if they don't like what they hear they can always look for another professor more to their liking.

In any case, I would inform them that what is 'politically correct' cannot be the standard of truth at a serious university.

Posted by Updates at February 14, 2005 12:15 PM

Here is what came out in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Today's News
Monday, February 14, 2005

Professor Who Was Accused of Making Derogatory Remarks in Class
Wants UNLV to Clear His Record


A professor of economics at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas has demanded that administrators retract a "letter of instruction" that was placed in his personnel file last week. The letter -- which grew from a student's complaint that the professor's lectures had included derogatory comments about homosexuals -- declares that the professor had created a "hostile learning environment" and instructs him to "cease mischaracterizing opinion as objective fact."

The university "has severely damaged my reputation as well as my health," the professor, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, wrote on Saturday in an e-mail message to /The Chronicle./ "It owes me reasonable compensation for this. The ACLU Nevada, as my legal representative, is prepared to see this through in federal court."

The dispute began with a complaint filed in March 2004 by Michael Knight, an economics major who graduated from the university last year and now lives in the Seattle area. Mr. Knight objected to a line of argument given by Mr. Hoppe in two of his lectures that month. In those lectures Mr. Hoppe presented the concept of "time preferences"-- that is, people's varying degrees of willingness to defer the immediate consumption of goods in favor of saving and investment. Time preferences are an important notion in economics, and particularly in the Austrian-libertarian school to which Mr. Hoppe adheres.

In his lectures, Mr. Hoppe said that certain groups of people -- including small children, very old people, and homosexuals -- tend to prefer present-day consumption to long-term investment. Because homosexuals generally do not have children, Mr. Hoppe said, they feel less need to look toward the future. (In a recent talk at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which Mr. Hoppe says was similar to his classroom lecture, he declared, "Homosexuals have higher time preferences, because life ends with them.")

Mr. Knight found that argument unwarranted and obnoxious, and he promptly filed a complaint with the university. In a telephone interview on Saturday, Mr. Knight said: "I was just shocked and appalled. I said to myself, Where the hell is he getting this information from? I was completely surprised, and that's why I went to the university about this."

According to both Mr. Hoppe and Mr. Knight, the university's formal grievance procedure hinged on the question of whether Mr. Hoppe could cite peer-reviewed academic literature to support the claim that homosexuals have high time preferences. The "letter of instruction," which was written on Wednesday by Raymond W. Alden III, the university's executive vice president and provost, tells Mr. Hoppe that his comments created "a hostile learning environment because they were not qualified as opinions, theories without experimental/statistical support, topics open to debate, or otherwise limited."

Mr. Knight said that he was grateful for the university's actions, and that he supported the fact-opinion distinction raised in Mr. Alden's letter. "If it's speculation and it's an opinion," he said, "then it should not be inside the lecture. I'm there to get an education, and I'm paying for the course. If the professor is bringing in his opinion or bringing in speculation, then that's not true facts. The information he brought to lecture was not peer-reviewed, and it's his academic responsibility as a professor to make sure that he's providing accurate information to his students."

Many scholars, however, have expressed alarm at the ground rules laid down by Mr. Alden. Several economists' Web logs have urged readers to contact UNLV administrators in Mr. Hoppe's defense.

In an e-mail message to /The Chronicle/ on Sunday, Lloyd R. Cohen, a law professor at George Mason University, wrote that "the provost's distinction between 'opinion' and 'fact' is empty, and can be -- and is -- only used for a deceitful and pernicious purpose."

If he taught at a university where Mr. Alden's rule was universally applied, Mr. Cohen continued, he would begin each course by handing students a formal disclaimer: "Each statement I make in this class for the remainder of the semester shall be understood to be my opinion and not as 'objective fact.' ... I will however endeavor to distinguish from time to time: (1) the strength of conviction with which I hold
particular opinions; (2) the degree to which my opinions are shared by others in the profession; and (3) the empirical evidence or theoretical arguments that support my opinion."

For his part, Mr. Hoppe said that he was "tempted to reply to the provost's suggestion with a simple quip: Is the alleged categorical distinction between fact and opinion itself a fact or an opinion?" Mr. Hoppe views Mr. Alden's fact-opinion proviso as "a mere play with words" that would be incoherent and unworkable if a university ever enforced it seriously.

Academic freedom, Mr. Hoppe said, "permits and even obliges faculty to discuss controversial matters at variance with 'common wisdom,' and certainly doesn't require that we speak only about matters that have passed the test of peer-reviewed wisdom, as the letter from the provost absurdly claims."

Mr. Hoppe was born in Germany in 1949, and has taught at UNLV since 1986. His best-known books, including /A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism: Economics, Politics, and Ethics/ (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989), draw on the theories of Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, who were extremely skeptical toward all forms of taxation and state power.

In his most recent book, /Democracy -- The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order/(Transaction, 2001), Mr. Hoppe cites the concept of time preferences to argue that monarchical systems had significant advantages over modern democracies. Democratically elected leaders, he said in one of his recent Mises Institute lectures, have incentives "to loot the country as fast as possible," whereas "kings, at least, by and large, had an interest in preserving the power of their dynastic property and passing on a valuable piece of property to future generations."

Mr. Hoppe hastens to add that, while he prefers monarchy to democracy, he is not a monarchist. His ideal, he wrote in a 1995 essay, is a quasi-anarchistic system in which society is led by a "voluntarily acknowledged 'natural' elite" comprised of "families with long-established records of superior achievement, farsightedness, and exemplary personal conduct."

In /Democracy -- The God That Failed,/ Mr. Hoppe explains that the citizens of his idealized libertarian community must be prepared to ostracize dissidents: "Naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society. Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They -- the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism -- will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order." (Mr. Knight says that Mr. Hoppe never made arguments of that nature in the classroom.)

/The Chronicle/ asked Mr. Hoppe whether such a policy of banishment should apply to college professors who promote social democracy, homosexuality, and so on. He answered on Sunday in an e-mail message, "In libertarian society you would see a great variety of (completely private) universities, subscribing to different fundamental philosophies. ... Contracts may stipulate different reasons for dismissal."

If he himself were president of a university, Mr. Hoppe continued, "if I concluded a contract with (let's say) an economics professor that he may not become an advocate of communism and he does become such an advocate, then I could and would fire him."

In any case, Mr. Hoppe emphasized, we are not now living within his preferred social order. "I did not break my contract with UNLV," he wrote. "UNLV broke its contract with me by interfering with my academic freedom, which it granted to me according to its own bylaws (and which constitute part of my contract)."

Earlier, Mr. Hoppe told /The Chronicle/ that he is especially angry that Mr. Knight never spoke directly to him before filing his complaint. If he were president of a university, Mr. Hoppe said, "I would inform students that they have a right and duty to ask questions and challenge their professors. ... Further, I would tell them that if they don't like what they hear, they can always look for a professor more to their liking."

Mr. Knight conceded on Saturday that he did not warn Mr. Hoppe before he filed his complaint, but added that he found Mr. Hoppe's demeanor so intimidating and off-putting that he believed that such a conversation would have been useless. He said that he finds it ironic that Mr. Hoppe has presented himself to the news media as a victim of the university's conduct. "I don't think that he's a victim in this at all," he said. "I feel that he led this whole this whole thing on. It was his choice."

The dispute has reached its current intensity, Mr. Knight said, only because Mr. Hoppe objected to his complaint at the initial stage, last March. If Mr. Hoppe had been more responsive, Mr. Knight said, "none of this would have gone into his personnel file at all. All he would have had to do is to facilitate a classroom discussion in regard to making sure that students didn't feel offended."

Late Friday afternoon, /The Chronicle/ attempted to contact Mr. Alden and several other UNLV professors and administrators; none of them replied over the weekend.

On Thursday, UNLV released a statement that read, in part: "It is unfair for the news media and others who may have read incomplete accounts of this situation to judge the university's intentions and values regarding this matter. ... UNLV is deeply committed to upholding the tenets of academic freedom, and equally committed to investigating reports of discrimination."

* * *

Several documents related to the dispute between UNLV and Mr. Hoppe are available on the Web site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, including a facsimile of Mr. Alden's letter <> to Mr. Hoppe and the text of a 1995 essay <> by Mr. Hoppe, "The Political Economy of Monarchy and Democracy, and the Idea of a Natural Order." (These documents can be viewed with Adobe Reader, <> available free.) Audio files <> of Mr. Hoppe's lectures at the institute are also available on the site.

Mr. Knight has commented about the dispute on a personal Web log. <>

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