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To Name or Not To Name? That Shouldn’t Be The Question

By Jonathan G. Yuan
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Across their vastly disparate areas of interest, all Harvard students are taught and positioned to take pride in whatever field they seek to pursue. And whether they commit to the sprawling exploration of social studies, the molecule-laden realm of integrative biology, or (most commonly) the ever-popular field of economics, nearly every student leaves Harvard with a common token: a tailored, specific degree that offers subtle yet rich cues on what skills their concentration has imparted them with, and the pride associated with this distinction.

Except at the Harvard Extension School, that is. As it stands, students charting their professional paths at the Extension School are rewarded for their years of careful dedication with one of two meager degree titles, regardless of their specific field of study: Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies, or Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies.

To us, this makes little sense. Frustrated Harvard Extension School students have long recognized the gap between their academic efforts and output, and have been calling for an alteration to their degree name since 2016. Now, increasingly burdened and reinvigorated by a changing educational landscape, these calls have begun to louden, echo, and reverberate.

We wholeheartedly support these rising calls; as it stands, the Extension School’s vague degree labeling process lacks reason and rationale, trivializing the achievement implicit in years of specialized study at the Extension School. Indeed, at the Extension School, students of all backgrounds, ages, and levels of experience are able to spend years honing in on targeted areas of study within disciplines such as global studies, technology, education, and business and management. Ultimately, their degrees ought to reflect their mastery and celebrate the effort students expend to hone and refine their individual interests.

Instead, the degree-naming system stands as a troubling marker of unequal treatment, one that treats field-specific recognition as an exclusive courtesy, rather than as a basic, requisite, and hard-earned honor deserved by all students.

We understand the weight and importance of embedding the distinct names of Harvard’s schools within individual degrees. Whether it’s a Harvard College, Harvard Law School, or Harvard Extension School label, such specifications are indispensable. They capture the distinctiveness of academic life across the University’s different schools. But still, such school-based labels cannot stand alone. In isolation, what does “in Extension Studies'' mean? This description only tells one small piece of a much larger story — and, without deeper context, the work of Extension School students threatens to become markedly devalued, trivialized, and flagrantly misunderstood.

In fact, the Extension School’s inability to duly honor its students undercuts its most basic, fundamental mission. The Extension School was founded upon a commitment to enhance educational equity, to lower the barriers of entry to advanced education, and to open up the channels of knowledge imparted by global experts to a broader public. Extension School students — who come from diverse walks of life and often pursue other projects while studying at Harvard — enrich Harvard’s academic spaces with insight gained from their own work and life experience. But how can the Harvard Extension School truly optimize equity and honor such vibrant exchanges when its graduates are, at the most foundational level, denied even-handed levels of recognition and regard? At its core, the University’s delegitimization of Extension School life undermines its noble founding principles.

Right now, the richness of instruction non-traditional modes of learning can offer is becoming ever more recognized. Indeed, for years, many Extension School courses have been either partially or entirely online; now, after years of being unique in this regard, students at every Harvard institution — from the College to the Medical School — are taking virtual courses themselves. From nearly two semesters of virtual learning, we have learned what Extension School students have known for years: that a Harvard education is not defined by fancy lecture halls, but by the content of its teaching and the dedication of its students.

It is time for Harvard to recognize — and quite literally put a name to — the ever-enriching nature of the distinct, focused scholarship embedded within Extension School life. The University must live up to the Extension School’s equitable and dynamic ideals; it must offer all students the careful, well-earned forms of recognition that they deserve.

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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