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Model says Brandeis will ‘perish,’ analysts and economists say the conclusion is unscientific

New York University (NYU) Marketing Professor Scott Galloway said that hundreds of universities and colleges around the country, including Brandeis, will fail under current fall coronavirus reopening plans, but analysts and university administrations have refuted the professor’s claims and said that his blog post has had harmful consequences. Professors from other institutions told The Brandeis Hoot that Galloway’s model is irresponsible and unethical, particularly because he did not disclose potential conflicts of interest.

“The economic circumstances for many of these schools are dire, and administrators will need imagination—and taxpayer dollars—to avoid burning the village to save it,” reads Galloway’s blog post, “No Mercy/No Malice.” “Per current plans, hundreds of colleges will perish.”

Ed Carr, the director of the international development, community and environment department at Clark University, another school that was predicted to perish, told The Hoot in an interview that he thought the post was “obnoxious.” 

“Without testing, the implicit model behind this analysis is self-referential and easily engineered to produce any desired outcome,” Carr wrote in a blog post he co-authored with Rob Johnston, director of the George Perkins Marsh Institute at Clark University. 

Carr told The Hoot that he thinks Galloway should have disclosed his potential conflicts of interest in his blog post, including Galloway’s own business, Prof G, an online course program in which he helps companies market products in the “digital age.” Carr said that Galloway’s investments might not have influenced his conclusion, but that he should have made this conflict clearer.

Galloway’s model is based on two calculated “second-order” scores, where schools are assigned to four different quadrants based on their viability: thrive, survive, struggle and perish; with each quadrant containing around one-fourth of schools analyzed. He calculated his results based on various factors: endowment, educational offerings, tuition and student populations.

“Professor Galloway has created four buckets using only selected data with no model presented to see whether there is any predictive power of the various measures used,” Brandeis’ Executive Director of Communications and Media Relations Julie Jette wrote to The Hoot in an email. “He does not include indicators of stress on institutions – e.g. reported shortfalls in enrollment, reported layoffs, furloughs or salary cuts, reported forecasts or actual deficits, etc.”

Jette told The Hoot that many of these factors will not be known for weeks or months. She said that even if those factors were part of the analysis, it would not necessarily be predictive of how an institution will perform going forward. 

“Galloway’s simplistic data sort doesn’t and can’t assess the likelihood of success of the   carefully-considered decisions being made by schools across the country,” Jette wrote. “Nor can it predict the geographic course of the pandemic and the variation in regional impacts it will have over the course of this academic year. None of our peer institutions have suggested their institution is going to ‘thrive’ in the midst of the pandemic.”

A study done by Prescience Associates found several flaws with Galloway’s model, including the assumption that some schools “must fail.” The study states that “The final assessment of a school’s institutional viability … is not according to its performance on validated or expected standards of strategic ‘health,’ but rather according to its relationship to the study’s population of institutions.” 

Carr told The Hoot in an interview that if more schools were included in the study, schools in the ‘perish’ quadrant would move up because there are other schools in worse shape. Galloway’s data only analyzes 15 percent of the 2,832 four-year public and private colleges and universities in the United States, according to an article by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. Schools included in the study were ranked schools, which already have a better chance of survival, Carr added.

Steve DeLoach, the chair of the economics department at Elon University, another school that was predicted to perish, told The Hoot in an interview that he thinks Galloway’s spreadsheet is “clickbait” and “borderline unethical.” 

“When you first see something like this, it has this ere of credibility,” DeLoach told The Hoot. “He’s presenting himself as a scholar in some way with some expertise about the financial health of institutions and he has zero expertise in any of that nor is he looking at anything that anyone would look at. If you wanted to do a serious analysis, you would look at things like the percentage of an institution’s revenue that comes from room and board which he didn’t look at.

Galloway makes the assumption that bigger schools have bigger endowments, which according to his analysis, assumes they will be fine. But DeLoach countered that smaller schools realistically have a better chance at staying opening. 

DeLoach said that since every state has lost huge amounts of revenue in taxes, many state schools will lose a significant amount of funding. For example, DeLoach explained that universities in North Carolina should plan for 30 to 50 percent cuts in expenditures. Schools with large athletic departments will take huge losses. The “Big Ten” football schools are predicted to lose more than $700 million from postponing their fall football season, according to CNBC.

DeLoach explained that Galloway also makes the assumption that richer schools with bigger endowments will be better off, which is a common misconception. “People think if you have a big endowment, people think of it as a big savings account. [Endowment] money can’t be used for anything that it wasn’t designated for,” DeLoach explained. “A big endowment will not keep you from having to make the same cuts as everyone else.”

“It took five minutes to figure that the analysis was trash,” Carr told The Hoot. “Something [Johnston and I] found disingenuous was this line saying: ‘I just want to start a conversation.’” Carr said that given the uncertain circumstances that the world is in, there would be material impacts of Galloway’s post, not only with current students, but with alumni relations and networking opportunities. “I’ve heard from faculty from colleges who reached out around the country. I’m certain some schools out there may have lost students over this kind of thing,” said Carr. 

Carr said that some of Galloway’s other mistakes were not normalizing teacher salaries based on the school’s location, assuming that average teacher salary correlates to quality and using the data that was most readily available, not necessarily the data that was most relevant. 

“He quantified prestige by looking at internet traffic,” Carr explained. “Lots of things drive internet traffic. You could have a colossal scandal at a school and you’re gonna get a lot of internet traffic. If you have a nationally ranked football team you’re going to have a lot of traffic, but does that mean that your school’s prestige is high?”

Carr said that he thinks that factors that will contribute to a school’s reopening success are: low infection rates where the school is located, residential campuses, high frequency testing and quarantine housing available to individuals who test positive. 

Galloway teaches Brand Strategy and Digital Marketing at NYU Stern and was elected to World Economic Forum’s “Global Leaders of Tomorrow.” He has served on the board of directors of Eddie Bauer, The New York Times Company, Gateway Computer and Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, according to his NYU faculty page.

Galloway did not respond to The Hoot’s request for a comment. 

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