How I responded to The Harvard Crimson’s request for comment on its Extension School degree article

The Harvard Crimson just published an article about the Harvard Extension School degree designations. I’ve been writing about Harvard Extension School ALM and ALB degree designations for more than 10 years on Ipso Facto and the Harvard Extended blog, and know quite a bit about this topic. The Crimson isn’t breaking any new ground with its article, although for many current Harvard College undergraduates it’s probably the first time they’ve ever heard about the issue.

The Crimson reporter also asked me for a phone interview. Here is my response:

Thanks for reaching out. I don’t do voice interviews about the Extension School — it’s a charged topic, and frankly the treatment of the Extension School by the Crimson and other institutions at Harvard has skewed negative over the years, typically focusing on scandal or how we don’t deserve equal treatment, and often leaving out important context.

The serious students, the success stories, the accomplishments, the areas where the school is doing some very innovative things … those are rarely covered by The Crimson. The Harvard Gazette sometimes does, but it also avoids any discussion of the name issue/unequal treatment. This is part of the reason why I have been active on my @harvardextended twitter account and blogging (Ipso Facto and Harvard Extended) where I try to explore both the good and bad aspects of HES.

Regarding your specific question:

Despite years of lobbying by the former Extension School dean, various petitions and letter-writing campaigns, and online activism, the Faculty Council and Mass Hall have consistently blocked or ignored any attempt to change the name of the Extension School or the ridiculous “In Extension Studies” degree designation. The University has further taken steps to exclude Extension School students from housing and open cross-registration with other schools at Harvard. As a graduate student at MIT, it was even possible for me to cross-register for classes at Harvard Business School, the Graduate School of Education, and the Harvard Kennedy School. An MIT classmate even studied at the Divinity School! Yet as a matriculated graduate student at the Extension School, I was forbidden from attending classes for credit at any of these schools.

Taken together, this state of affairs perpetuates the elitist notion that the Extension School isn’t really part of the Harvard community, and students do not deserve the same treatment or respect accorded others at the University.

In the short term, the only hope for change on the naming front would involve sustained demonstrations outside of Faculty Council meetings and Mass Hall. Failing that, there won’t be change until a new generation of faculty, trustee, and University leadership takes office and realizes that the Extension School, far from being an “extension” of Harvard, is in fact a crucible for innovation, accomplishment, and community involvement that the rest of the University should look up to.

You are welcome to use any part of this email in your article.

The reporter did not use any of this material in her story, so I am publishing it here.

Lastly, I give credit to outgoing Dean Huntington Lambert for commenting at length about why “in Extension Studies” is academically incorrect for graduates who concentrated in computer science, history, or biology. That said, there is a lot more that could have been written about the difficulties that students and alumni experience when presenting a resume with a strange “official” designation. People have been negatively impacted, as one ALM software engineering concentrator found out when he attempted to find a job.


7 thoughts on “How I responded to The Harvard Crimson’s request for comment on its Extension School degree article

  1. Hi Ian,

    Thanks for your input. I’ve personally spoken with dean lambert at length about this. He said we actually have faculty support now and support from the crimson. It’s the corporation that’s dragging their feet. I just wanted to make that known.

    • Thanks for sharing this, John. But color me skeptical when it comes to faculty support. From the 1970s until the early part of this decade, we had a dean and champion — Michael Shinagel — who was a lecturer in English at Harvard, president of the Faculty Club, a master of Quincy House, and a member of the Harvard Faculty Council. If he couldn’t get the faculty to come around then (and he tried!), what has changed in the interim that makes the faculty more receptive to removing “in Extension Studies” from Extension School degrees?

      Talk is cheap. Action is what matters.

      • Hi Ian, I graduated in 1981 with a Bachelor of Arts in Extension Studies, not the ALB degree. I am thankful that I have an A.B. and not the ALB. The “Extension Studies” has always bothered me. Thanks for speaking out on the issue. I have always thought that the degree could be a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies instead of Extension Studies.

        • You’re welcome! I wasn’t aware that the designation had even changed from A.B. to A.L.B., but it sounds like you got into the program when few people got a full bachelor’s degree (before 2000, the associates degree was a more common option)

  2. The Bachelor of Arts in Extension Studies began in 1960. When I was finishing in 1981, it was as announced that the Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies was being implemented to replace the A.B which would no longer be awarded. The last A.B. was awarded in 1982. When I graduated, about half of the class received the A.L.B. Instead of the A.B. There were only sixty-five degree recipients in 1981. Three people received the new A.L.M. degree. Numerous people received an Associate’s degree.

  3. how about a lawsuit? Maybe a class action one? Anything to get publicity. I’m sure the national press would love to report on how Harvard discriminates against its “commoner” students.

    I would guess that many HES alumni would donate money to pay for it.

    • You have no idea how much discrimination this ALM student endured, fought back against, and ultimately won. Class action? I’m in.

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