International news reporters, researchers, and leaders of government and industry over the years came to know Robert Lang as a leading expert on what makes America tick and the West thrive.
Lang, the Lincy Endowed Professor of Urban Affairs in the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, led The Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West, two public policy research centers at UNLV that focus on critical issues facing Nevada and the country.
Lang died Monday, June 21, leaving a legacy that helped establish Southern Nevada’s bona fides as a center for urban planning in the 21st century and lent global context to the economic ebb and flow of the community. He was 62.
“Robert Lang used public policy as a powerful tool to improve the community and lives of the people who live here,” said Chris Heavey, executive vice president and provost. “His research served to inform a broad spectrum of public policymakers about the Southwest and how important its growth and development would be to the future locally and nationally.”
Lang’s work was frequently featured by national and international print and broadcast media outlets, including USA Today, The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, among others. And he was widely recognized as an authority on urban growth, economic development, and population dynamics, including the interplay between politics and growth in America’s metropolitan areas.
His research, for instance, was cited recently by CNN in an analysis of the 2020 presidential election, demonstrating the growing strength of Sun Belt cities in national politics.
“Dr. Lang believed in the incredible potential of UNLV and Southern Nevada, a belief that has become a reality for many of the ideas he championed over the past 11 years,” said UNLV President Keith E. Whitfield. “His positive impact on our university and in our community will be felt for years to come, and he will be sorely missed.”
Lang and his research often helped inform public policy in Southern Nevada, including on issues of transportation, economic development and diversification, and tourism. He was often called on for his expertise by local government leaders across the region.
“Professor Lang really wanted to make a difference in the world and develop innovative and progressive solutions for Southern Nevada,” said Robert Ulmer, dean of the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs. “He was a powerful advocate for establishing a school of medicine in Southern Nevada. He knew that was a need for Las Vegas, for Southern Nevada, for the health of the community, and for diversifying economic development for the region.”
The school, which is now the fully accredited Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV, officially welcomed students in 2017 and this year graduated its charter class of future physicians.
In 2019, The Lincy Institute’s original donor funded a $5 million endowed chair at UNLV — the Lincy Endowed Chair in Urban Affairs. It was the largest individual donation to support public policy research in the history of Nevada, and the chair was awarded to Lang in recognition of his teaching and research career. Recipients of this honor lead The Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West as executive director and serve as faculty in the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs.
But Lang, Ulmer noted, was first and foremost a professor.
“He loved working with faculty and students, and was a full and active participant in the college,” he said.