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Harvard professor Jennifer L. Hochschild apologized after facing backlash from Harvard Extension School affiliates for remarks on X which were perceived as denigrating students at the school.
In a series of posts early this month, Hochschild — a Government and African and African American Studies professor who also teaches at HES — suggested that conservative activist Christopher F. Rufo, who emerged as a prominent critic of former Harvard President Claudine Gay in the final weeks of her presidency, had misrepresented his master’s degree from the Extension School.
“On Rufo: what do integrity police say about his claim to have ‘master’s degree from Harvard,’ which is actually from the open-enrollment Extension School?” Hochschild wrote on Jan. 4. “Those students are great — I teach them — but they are not the same as what we normally think of as Harvard graduate students.”
The Harvard Extension Student Association appeared to address Hochschild’s remarks in a Monday statement, writing that they “are deeply concerned and disappointed by the recent comments made by a Harvard Extension School professor on the social media platform, X.”
“Although the professor attempted to backtrack on her statements, the initial message conveyed a different sentiment, one that undermines the value and reputation of our institution,” the HESA wrote. “Generalizations that denigrate HES students do more than unjustly diminish individual achievements; they erode the foundational values of diversity, respect, and academic rigor that are essential to the fabric of Harvard University, and all of its degree-granting schools.”
In an emailed response to HESA shared with The Crimson, Hochschild apologized for the way her posts were construed.
“I am sorry that my comments were understood to imply a ‘sentiment . . . that undermines the value and reputation of our institution,’ and that they caused HES students and staff distress,” Hochschild wrote. “That is far from my views; Harvard is rightly proud of the quality of and access to education manifested every day by HES.”
In a follow up email, she reiterated her admiration for HES students, writing that their degrees show “gumption, commitment, passion for learning, desire to use education in the service of their job or family or self.”
My point, which was clearly phrased badly in the original tweet, was that students should proudly state their HES degree,” she wrote. “I have apologized to HES staff and students for inadvertently involving them in a silly debate (of course an HES degree is a real Harvard degree—who said otherwise??) and in an inappropriate challenge to what they should be proud of.”
Rufo earned a master’s degree in Government in 2022 from HES. His degree became the subject of fervent discussion on X following Gay’s resignation, with many sharing a February 2023 article in the New Republic claiming that Rufo had misrepresented his HES degree as a “normal master’s degree from Harvard” in a biography on the Manhattan Institute website, where he serves as a senior fellow.
On the website, he is described as holding a Master of Liberal Arts degree from Harvard, without mentioning that the degree is from HES, the only school at Harvard which issues Master of Liberal Arts degrees.
HES has programs granting master’s and bachelor’s degrees and a range of certificates, with the master’s degree program requiring applicants to submit transcripts, a 500-word personal statement, and meet grade requirements.
Extension School affiliates have often bristled at the notion that their degrees are different from degrees at Harvard’s 11 other graduate and professional schools. Students rallied in October calling for the words “in extension studies” to be struck from their degrees.
In a statement, Harry Pierre, a spokesperson for the Harvard Division of Continuing Education, which operates the Extension School, wrote that “the Harvard Extension School (HES) stands unequivocally as an integral part of Harvard University's academic legacy since 1910 and our degrees are Harvard degrees.”
In emails prior to Hochschild’s apology, some HES students said that her comments were disappointing and reflected a broader devaluing of HES degrees.
“HES students are frequently faced with similar sentiments, which discredit our work and association with the University,” Jillian Queri wrote in an email.
“Between the discourse surrounding Professor Hochschild’s remarks and the petition to remove ‘Extension Studies’ from our degrees, it feels like we [HES students] are constantly having to explain ourselves and provide reasons that validate our accomplishments,” Queri added.
Kaleb Abebe wrote that “Professor Hochschild’s comments highlight an unsurprisingly elitist attitude at Harvard, undermining HES students’ efforts and perpetuating academic hierarchy.”
In her follow up email, Hochschild reiterated that she was “completely and enthusiastically in support of HES’s mission of opening access to Harvard courses through a different channel from the conventional admission process.”
Clarification: January 13, 2024
This article has been updated to clarify that Christopher F. Rufo described himself as holding a degree that is only granted to Harvard Extension School graduates.
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