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Extending Our Gratitude to the Extension School

By Cat D. Hyeon
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

In a satirical piece published over 16 years ago, our Editorial Board wrote that “Hilary Duff is a loser and a chicken” for taking classes at the Harvard Extension School. In poor writing and even poorer taste, the editorial implies an inherent value differentiation between HES and the other Harvard schools. The regrettable piece has resurfaced recently as the ambiguity surrounding the Extension School’s place within the University continues to linger.

For example, Harvard Extension School activists are still working to challenge the devaluation of their work in their current degree names, which include only the vague moniker of “Extension Studies” rather than mentioning students’ specific field of study. As we’ve previously opined, the current degree title is misleading and ill-fitting, and only one manifestation of the perceived chasm between HES and the other Harvard schools. A chasm which in reality, does not exist.

This is especially true in light of the ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our experiences with higher education. Over the past year and a half, the material conditions of student life have changed rapidly. Many of us have come to recognize that our Harvard education is about more than just physical presence in a lecture hall. Knowledge is valuable regardless of the space it is learned in, and education does not change in worth based on whether or not the degree completed virtually, as is the case for most HES students.

Indeed, many students at the College and the Extension School are enrolled in the very same courses with the very same professors. If HES students have the option to take the same courses as College students, any perceived distinction in the value of their education comes from a place of arbitrary superiority; one that we have constructed while engulfed in an academic environment riddled with competition, exclusivity, and constructed conceptions of meritocracy. Acknowledging the similarities in the instruction that Extension School and College students receive does not damage the worth of either program. Rather, the privilege enjoyed by students at Harvard College to take classes with other students from all walks of life and paths of study — whether from the Extension School, other Harvard schools, or nearby universities — is part of what makes Harvard such an enriching place to learn.

In fact, the very founding mission of the Extension School — which prioritizes being accessible and affordable to the public, especially those in the workforce — embodies much of what we have consistently called on Harvard to be. The Extension School is thus not only an essential part of Harvard’s civic duty, but also of the University’s commitment to the expansion of truth and knowledge, representing an ideal that should be celebrated, not shunned.

To that end, the democratized model of the Extension School — which enables a tremendous number of students to both receive and give knowledge — is perhaps the most closely aligned to the true purpose of education. Exclusive access isn’t what makes learning valuable. On the contrary, knowledge is a treasure that was designed to be shared.

As students at the College, we have gained much from the presence of the Extension School and its students, and we still have much to learn from them. In the past, our Editorial Board has not been as appreciative as we ought to be of what is a beautiful and crucial part of the Harvard community.

To Ms. Duff and all the other students at HES whose contributions have been undermined, in part by our board: We’d like to offer an apology and our sincere gratitude. And Hilary, our dreams are made of the sincerest hope that you will come visit your alma mater sometime soon.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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