An open letter to Scott Galloway

Scott,

Enough.

Your peddling of doom — and the worst example was your recent analysis suggesting that roughly 90 U.S. colleges and institutions could close because of coronavirus — serves no one’s interests. And that’s especially true as we navigate through a pandemic with the Executive Branch having abandoned any pretense of leadership.

Now, I might be accused of bias because my employer is one of those institutions you predicted could close its doors. However, and I’m confident I speak for everyone who truly cares about higher education when I say you can be a more valued player right now by identifying the solutions that will benefit the whole of higher education as we combat what is sure to be a multiyear problem, rather than discussing closings.

You come off as the guy inviting the Grim Reaper to appear. I trust you don’t want to see any institution close, but perception can become reality.

Be a positive change agent.

Your argument that colleges and universities should begin the academic year with remote instruction overlooks or undervalues some important points.

First, the whole of the country is not seeing dangerous spikes in coronavirus. In such states (or perhaps it’s better to say in counties within states) where immediate threats to the health care system are not evident, there’s opportunity to open colleges and universities. Those opportunities must be strongly considered. I make a comparison to business carefully, partially because we know some states’ governors posted the open-for-business sign before they should have, but where infection numbers are in check there is an opportunity for colleges and universities to reopen.

Second, a majority of our nation’s colleges and universities are local or regional institutions; as such, those in non-crisis cities are unlikely to soon welcome back to campus a large number of students from parts of the country (or the world) where coronavirus might be rampant. Absolutely, if it’s necessary to quarantine some students for 14 days, then we do it. Nevertheless, if the bulk of the student body is local, then they’re less likely to carry the coronavirus back to campus.

Third, we know students prefer the powerful learning and personal moments that come from being inside a physical classroom; we’d be denying them a chance to at least begin the academic year in an environment in which they are most familiar and comfortable by choosing the remote option.

Fourth, your aforementioned post about the potential for college closures used an important word — grit. We need to demonstrate that now; our students want a return to something resembling normal, especially recognizing that the spring term was blown apart by a evacuate-because-the-house-is-on-fire moment, and they want to continue their academic careers where they will be best positioned for success in either the professional world or graduate school.

Fifth, responsible and ethical institutional leaders — and they are a large group — are basing their reopening plans on the best medical and scientific information available to them. They’re not willy-nilly jumping to this decision simply based on financial considerations. They certainly are ignoring the science-doesn’t-matter line emanating from the White House. Their detailed and complex conversations with people on their campus and throughout the country inform how their plans are constructed. They deserve credit for the efforts they’ve undertaken, and they deserve the chance to implement those plans.

Sixth, let’s not forget an untold number of students need the WiFi and technology on the campus to complete the assignments associated with their classes. It struck me, and I thought I knew my university’s students well, how many RMU students relied on the university’s library computers or any open computer on campus to get their work done. They really struggled once they had to go home, regardless of whether home was a 10-minute drive or a 10-hour flight away. Their challenges can be found all over the higher education environment. If we can give them that access, we serve their needs in ways we can’t if we’re delivering only remote instruction.

Seventh, and here my bias comes through again, I was a first-generation college student. Such students need mentors and what I’ll call the intangibles of being on campus as they advance from that fearful freshman year through to that exciting and nervous senior year. If the health conditions allow for them to be on campus, then, again, we’re serving their needs.

We’ve already seen a few colleges and universities announce they can no longer remain open. For their faculty, staff, students, alums and more, this news can feel like a death in the family. I’m not naive: I believe there will be others closing in the coming months.

However, no one should be naming names, for lack of a better phrase. Institutions may be harmed by public statements that imply, “Hey, prospective student, you should be careful about considering that school because it’s perhaps not going to make it.”

Be better.

I welcome the chance to start a conversation with you.

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