Once again, a Harvard Extension School club has caused great offense on campus. In 2011, it was a student group inviting a panel of anti-gay Christian conservatives to campus. Yesterday, it was the Harvard Extension School Cultural Studies Club inviting a New York Satanic society to campus to hold a “Black Mass”, a deeply offensive ritual meant to mock core Catholic beliefs. The Harvard Black Mass event, originally scheduled to be held in the basement of Memorial Hall, was moved to the Hong Kong restaurant after outrage exploded across campus and the national media.
There should be little surprise that the event drew such outrage. Boston is still a heavily Catholic town, and the event’s Harvard association magnified the interest and controversy. But I was saddened to see the frustration directed at Extension School students who had nothing to do with the event. I was also disappointed in the poor response by the Extension School and the non-response by Extension School student leaders, namely the officers of the Harvard Extension Student Association (HESA).
Reaction to news of Harvard’s Black Mass
The comments on The Crimson website in reaction to the Harvard Black Mass news illustrate how the reputation of the Harvard Extension School and its students became collateral damage, with some people going so far as to call into question the necessity of the Extension School:
I hate this school. Especially demoralizing that this is coming from the extension school.
Most annoying about this is the fact that people reading/hearing about this stupidity in the media will not focus on that word “extension,” which basically means this is an organization of random people who paid Harvard a couple hundred dollars to take a dumbed-down evening course. They are not “Harvard students,” and in most instances they are not even taught by “Harvard faculty.” They are outside posers who use Harvard’s classrooms in the evening — period. Then they go around either lying by omission — “When I was at Harvard” — or outright — “I graduated from Harvard,” ultimately damaging the brand for all the rest of us simply by being who they are and claiming to be who we are.
We have enough problems with controversy generated by legitimate Harvard students and faculty. Why is it that this sort of thing always seems to come from extension school students or visiting “executive education” pole dancers in the business school or some other abomination abusing Harvard’s good name?
Why are the Extension School and its students included in “Harvard?” When last I looked, the Extension School provided a way for a limited number of local people to pay and physically attend courses by Harvard faculty and earn, conceivably some day, in the case of a very few of them, a peculiar degree–not a BA. This must have been an exercise in 19th century-style Community Relations. Care has always been taken to keep these locals rigorously segregated from “real Harvard students.”
It seems to me that EdX renders this instrumentality, with all the questions it raises as to selectivity of admissions and the rights and discipline of Extension students, finally obsolete. Our faculty doesn’t need the very modest supplemental income.
Assuming academic integrity, quality and degree content could be assured, which they could right now, I feel great assurance that even so, and despite accelerating advances in medical science, no one capable of reading this will live long enough to see the day when degrees are awarded to EdX students (who, in contradistinction to Extension, are NOT “Harvard students”). The reasons for this are entirely financial.
But, OK. Why go on offering some weird degree? Lop off the decorative old branch and let EdX grow, even though it won’t be green.
This is not the first time that the Harvard Extension School’s reputation has been tarnished by the actions of individual students. Negativity has been brought to the fore when fake Harvard College students with Extension School backgrounds are outed or Extension Student alumni publish C.V.s that avoid mentioning their Extension School affiliation.
Official Response To The Black Mass Event From The Harvard Extension School
The Extension School’s response to the Black Mass was to portray this as a student free speech issue, and attempt to equate the Black Mass with other club events, such as a Shinto tea ceremony. Meanwhile, the elected leaders of HESA — including the director of club affairs — were nowhere to be seen. This would have been an opportunity to reject the Black Mass as totally offensive and unwelcome, and point out that the actions of a few naive and misguided students do not reflect the attitudes of the rest of the student body.
For the Black Mass event, the cultural club went through the trouble of creating an online flier (since removed from weebly) but I couldn’t find any record of the names of the club officers. The organizers of the Black Mass were defended by Harvard on the grounds of free speech rights, but nowhere did they actually have to clearly identify themselves or stand behind their pronouncements.
My advice to Harvard, the Harvard Extension School and HESA: If clubs from any part of Harvard can use “free speech” as a reason to organize any event on campus, then the club organizers have to publicly take responsibility for the event and any fallout or damage that transpires. If club leaders insist on anonymity, then they shouldn’t be granted official club status — and the events should take place off campus.