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Last weekend, students from the Extension School gathered in front of University Hall to rally for a change in the names of its degrees. Led by a student group calling itself the Harvard Extension Degree Change Initiative, the protesters called for more specificity in the name of degrees awarded by the Extension School. Current degree candidates at the Extension School—only a small fraction of the school’s students—earn a Bachelor or Master of Liberal Arts degree in “Extension Studies” rather than in the subject which they studied.
The group leading the movement to remove “Extension Studies” from the degree has collected more than 1,500 signatures in support of its cause. Dean of Continuing Education Huntington D. Lambert is supportive of changing how students’ degrees describe their courses of study. We agree that Harvard should consider making the change to clarify the role of a degree from the Extension School.
This kind of change would not be unprecedented. In 2009, a different change to the names of Extension School degrees was proposed by the Faculty of Arts Sciences’ Committee on Continuing Education as part of a broader rethinking of the Extension School’s modern role. While the concerns voiced then by some members of the faculty persist, we believe that Harvard can strike a balance between better recognizing the studies of Extension School students and clearly differentiating the degrees awarded by other Harvard schools.
In describing the Extension School’s degrees more accurately, the language chosen must differentiate Extension School diplomas in such a way that employers and future students alike are not confused between the two. The difference between the rigor and selectivity of the two programs cannot be denied.
But the Extension School students’ contention is not that the language is too specific. Rather, it is that the language is not specific enough. After all, “Extension Studies” is neither an academic program nor an accurate description of what students actually study. When the name of a degree does not state the subject in which a student has specialized, it diminishes the academic work that the student successfully completed while at Harvard. This is not right.
For this reason, we urge Harvard to consider changing the title of Extension School degrees to include the field of study rather than the ambiguous “Extension Studies.” Even with this change, students at the College and the Extension School would earn degrees that reflect the differences between the two programs.
The only question at stake is one of fairness to Extension School students; whether or not the language changes, a degree from Harvard College will have the same power it has always had.
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