As colleges across the United States slowly unveil campus reopening plans, I keep thinking of something Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at New York University and co-host of the Pivot podcast, told New York magazine in May: “At universities, we’re having constant meetings, and we’ve all adopted this narrative of ‘This is unprecedented, and we’re in this together,’ which is Latin for ‘We’re not lowering our prices, bitches.’”
Galloway’s statement might come off as crass to those unfamiliar with the financial model of most American colleges. But there’s a stark element of truth to it: Many institutions, particularly smaller schools that are dependent on tuition to survive, are wary of the possibility of low enrollment numbers and declining revenue if online classes continue into the fall.
While some undergraduates have expressed reservations about paying full tuition for remote learning, many students (both undergraduate and graduate alike), staff, and faculty are unconvinced that reopening for the fall will be the best course of action. Universities across the country are being asked to weigh the public health of their community against their bottom line; yet, many administrators appear to be hoping — or in some cases, actively planning — for a return to a new normalcy.
In late May, the president of the University of Notre Dame published an opinion piece in the New York Times with the headline, “We’re reopening Notre Dame. It’s worth the risk.”
To be clear, Rev. John Jenkins is not calling for a reopening without any safety measures; he argues that already, people regularly take on and impose risks “for the good of society.” With careful planning backed by scientific research, Jenkins believes that “the good of educating students and continuing vital research is very much worth the remaining risk.”