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Challenging Elitism: Harvard's Not So Hidden Secret And Those Who Hate It

Harvard Instructor Publicly Disparages Students Using Elitism


Once again, Harvard is in a controversy, but this time it has erupted around Harvard Extension School (HES) as a professor's disparaging remarks unveil persistent elitist attitudes within academia. This narrative, casting doubt on the ability of HES students to meet Harvard's standards, not only disregards the shared experiences of Extension School and the college undergraduates but also undermines the diversity that enriches the Harvard community.

Harvard Professor, Jennifer Hochschild, publicly disrespected Harvard Extension School (4) students in her personal grievance with Christopher Rufo (who recently co-wrote an expose (5) about Harvard’s former President Claudine Gay that resulted in the exposure of plagiarism within Dr. Gay’s Dissertation )

She started by stating, ”the open-enrollment Extension School? Those students are great - I teach them- but they are not the same as what we normally think of as Harvard graduate students (6)” (which isn’t an accurate reflection of Harvard Extension School’s enrollment abilities), and she didn't stop there. 

In this article, we will go over the facts about the Harvard Extension School, the issues with Ms. Hochschild's rhetoric, and the Harvard Coproration’s culpability in all of this.

HES Admission

As we’ve discussed in the previous article about the Harvard Extension School (7), while students with a strong interest in furthering their academic journey may take courses in a non-credit fashion, students are still held to an extremely high academic standard. Specifically, any student wishing to earn a degree (whether Undergraduate or Graduate) will have to adhere fully to those requirements to earn that degree. For instance, in the case of undergraduate students (8) :

  • Your first 3 courses are out of pocket (no govt aid or school grants available), which is approximately $2500 per course.

  • You must earn a 3.0 and maintain no less than a B average to be considered for an application. A B- would be considered “failing”

From there you submit your application with your professional CV. If you are granted admittance, you go from being a “class participant” to being a “student” with further strict standards like

  • Maintaining a GPA of a minimum of 3.0 for your concentration

  • Anything less than a C+ does not count towards your degree completion; less than a B- does not count towards your concentration or minor(s).

This is in addition to the students' other professional and personal responsibilities. 

HES Academia

In the dynamic classrooms of HES, where both Extension School and college students actively participate under the same instructors, one must question the legitimacy of claims that HES students fall short of Harvard's expectations. They pursue Harvard-accredited degrees, share the same learning environments, and are guided by the same educators; often in the same classes–together. 

A crucial aspect overlooked is that the average HES student brings a wealth of real-world and professional experience to their academic journey. Far from the narrow view of a traditional student immersed solely in textbooks, HES students contribute practical knowledge and varied experiences that enhance the overall learning environment. This diverse perspective challenges stereotypes and broadens the definition of a "typical" Harvard student.

Many HES students have already achieved remarkable standards in life, surpassing what traditional students might only dream of. From business executives with substantial resources to individuals choosing education for personal growth, HES students represent a diverse range of backgrounds and aspirations. The flexibility offered by the Extension School, allowing education from anywhere in the world, underscores its commitment to inclusivity and accessibility. For instance, outside of those who are already industry professionals and parents, there are also cases like mine…where individuals are battling health hurdles like cancer. Had I chosen the traditional route, I would have been required to drop out due to all the class time I would have missed while being in the hospital bed. Programs like what HES offers allow students to maintain their grades while maintaining their full lives.

Online learning now enables older students, working adults, people from nontraditional backgrounds and those who might be neurodiverse to access content more easily than ever before

 (9) -Jeff Borden, Chief Academic Officer for D2L

The benefits of online education, particularly emphasized during the global pandemic, should not be underestimated.  A study published by NLM (National Libary of Medicine) notes, “(1) Females are nearly twice as likely as males to prefer online asynchronous classes[...] However, gendered views and preferences align in other aspects of online learning. (2) Black students show a stronger preference for Zoom classes compared to online asynchronous classes and emphasize the importance of recording Zoom meetings. Hispanic students are twice as likely to prefer asynchronous online classes, which offer greater flexibility to manage multiple responsibilities. (3) International students value the ability to learn at their own pace provided by online learning [...]” (10). HES students engage in rigorous coursework with the same commitment as their in-person counterparts. The key difference lies in what happens after class – while HES students might continue their work in Curaçao to conduct marine biology research or their philanthropic mission in places ridden with human trafficking,  traditional students (in Harvard’s case) return to dorms or homes in Boston.

Educational spaces like the Harvard Extension School provide a flexible and inclusive learning environment, challenging the outdated narrative surrounding online education. It's time to recognize the valuable contributions of online students like HES students, embodying the essence of a Harvard education while bringing unique experiences and perspectives to the forefront. The Harvard Corporation via the President (interim or otherwise) must acknowledge and celebrate this diversity, standing against elitist viewpoints that undermine the true essence of Harvard as an institution that claims to be committed to excellence, accessibility, and intellectual growth for all.

 Harvard professor's disparaging remarks unveil persistent elitist attitudes within academia.

Impact of Hochschild’s behavior

Hochschild's comments suggest that Harvard, as a brand, would allow just anyone to be admitted, insinuating that the university is compromising its standards for financial gain. This raises questions about the professor's understanding of Harvard's admission process and implies that Harvard is, in essence, selling certificates and degrees to the highest bidder, regardless of capability.

It's ironic that the professor, teaching African American studies and Race in a Polarize America (11), is herself a privileged white woman who is reportedly “ the daughter of two immigrant families (12)” and “one of only four women (two of whom soon left) among thirty-four new student recruits (13)” to do Graduate school in the Yale political science department. This irony adds an uncomfortable layer to the situation, as she claims to understand and teach about the experiences of Black Americans while perpetuating a harmful narrative against a diverse group of students. 

Unfortunately, this toxic narrative of online education, in this case, HES students, somehow being “less than excellent” isn’t new. 

Daily Beast writer disparages Harvard students

A columnist for the Daily Beast stated:Christoper Rufo claims his master's is from Harvard U. It's actually from Harvard Extension. Harvard U. doesn't even accept credits from Extension. (14) ”. Two things to unpack here:

  1. Rufo seems to openly and accurately represent his Harvard University Degree from the Harvard Extension School (15)

  2. On Harvard College's site, it says: "Students are eligible to transfer only from a liberal arts curriculum that is similar to Harvard’s. Candidates whose education has been in a vocational, professional, technical, online, extension, or performance program will not ordinarily qualify for transfer admission (16)." The word "ordinarily" is important here because when I called and asked, I was told "The ALB is technically a similar curriculum as that of the college. A student would need to apply as a traditional student and have not taken more than 2 years of their alb in order to be eligible for consideration." Which is kind of interesting since HES would take an HC student. There is the option of Special Student status, where "Special Student status enables you to enroll for either one or two courses (two is the maximum) in Harvard College, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, or another Harvard Graduate School (certain restrictions apply). The fee is approximately $6,000 per course. (17)"

In the 2023 article this person was referencing, the author notes that per HES, "High school grades and SAT and ACT scores aren’t required at the institution. (18)", which is silly because Harvard College doesn't require SAT or ACT scores either (19). Additionally, while HES does not require your high school grades (unless relevant), they do require your professional CV when completing your application...which makes sense when you consider that the average HES student already strongly possesses real-world and practical experience in the field they are entering to study (20), thus, making them an ideal candidate for company recruitment. The article's author goes on to regurgitate the admissions process to HES and comfortably exerts their elitism via the stats of enrollments, where they ultimately insinuate that it's not Harvard if it's not extremely exclusive. They state:

"that is not the same as the exclusivity of the undergraduate school at Harvard University. For the class of 2026, there were over 60,000 applications for the undergraduate school. Less than 2,000 were admitted, and only 36 were admitted from the waiting list. Acceptance rates are very low and tuition rates are higher at other Harvard graduate schools that are really what a person is supposed to be referring to when he puts “Harvard” on his resume. (21)"

Harvard student uses elitism to disrespect non-traditional students

This rhetoric was followed up by a known anti-HES rager, who cried out “ Harvard real-degree here. You're spot on. The "extension school" is a source of laughter and annoyance for students and alumni. (I think Columbia has one, too -- same thing there.) It's basically an "anyone can enroll, so long as you pay", no more stringent than a community college. No fucking way should they get to say they are Harvard alumni or have a Harvard degree (22) “ and continued with the same rhetoric spouting "The "extension school" is online courses. Are you really comparing that to the regular school? (23)” For someone that proudly promotes their “Cuban parts (24)”, there’s a lot of internalized hatred coming from them when it comes to others choosing a non-traditional path.

"While in-person learning certainly has benefits, online learning has been shown to increase rates of information retention—as much as 25% to 60% when completed online as opposed to 8% to 10% when done in person, according to the Research Institute of America. (25)"

It’s interesting that society will chant “Work from Home” and “Stay-at-home parents” is real work…and yet will disparage remote education…

Yes, it’s true that, currently, degrees earned from HES might reflect something along the lines of Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies…and that’s a hot topic for all Extension School Students (because, what even are “extension studies”?). Nonetheless, it's a Bachelor's or Master's degree from Harvard University, which is the parent brand’s name…not Harvard College, Harvard Business, etc; something anyone with basic reading comprehension would never confuse. Yet, the inaccurate rhetoric insinuating that HES students are less academically and professionally capable continues. 

You're probably wondering, "but why does it matter?" Two things:

  1. Poor leadership makes students unlikely to feel safe in school and unable to retain what they are learning (26)

  2. These abusive behaviors from Instructors and professors, like Hochschild, leave a "devastating embedded hierarchy, social norms of self-sacrifice for prestige, and power differential present between student trainee and professor leave student trainees with very little ability to advocate for themselves (27) ."

"the rationalization always implicats the students, never the professor, institution, or department (28) "

David W. Garrison, Detrimental Behavior of Professors

A great book to read about this is: Faculty Incivility: The Rise of the Academic Bully Culture and What to Do About It (29).

Violating Harvard's Policies

Behaviors like that of Hochschild's are uncomfortably (and may even be actually) inching closely to violating Harvard's policies. Specifically:

  • Pg 2 Section 3: Conflict of interest (30)

Each Senior Official shall at all times act in a manner consistent with his or her responsibilities to the University and shall exercise due care to avoid situations that create conflicts between his or her private interests and those of the University.  

  • Pg 3: (i) has an existing or potential financial or other external interest that impairs or might reasonably appear to impair the Senior Official’s independence of judgment in the discharge of his or her responsibilities to the University; or

  • In determining whether a potential conflict of interest exists, the fact that the situation could subject the University to criticism, embarrassment, or litigation should be considered. A conflict of interest may also involve a situation where a Senior Official’s Outside Activities are inconsistent with his or her responsibilities to the University.

  • Non-Discrimination Policy (31)

    • Pg 2:  Discriminatory harassment is unwelcome and offensive conduct that is based on an individual or group’s protected status. Discriminatory harassment may be considered to violate this policy when it is so severe or pervasive, and objectively offensive, that it creates a work, educational, or living environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive and denies the individual an equal opportunity to participate in the benefits of the workplace or the institution’s programs and activities.


    • Conduct that Harvard considers inappropriate includes, but is not limited to, the following: b) Violation of policies, procedures and practices of Harvard and/or the employee's school or department

  • “Do No Harm” (33)

    • – Harvard encourages the use of social media to enhance its education and research through collaboration, communication, and promotion of research and programs. You must ensure that your authorized use of social media does not harm or otherwise injure the University, its faculty, its students, its alumni, or its employees.

The professor's remarks can be considered discriminatory, harmful, and inappropriate conduct for several reasons:

1. Discrimination: The instructor's comments imply a discriminatory attitude towards Harvard Extension School (HES) students based on their educational background. By insinuating that these students do not meet the expected standards of a Harvard education due to their affiliation with the Extension School, the instructor is unfairly categorizing and stereotyping a group of individuals.

2. Harmful Stereotyping: The remarks perpetuate harmful stereotypes about the capabilities and qualifications of HES students. By suggesting that these students lack the privileged background typical of traditional Harvard graduates, the instructor not only undermines the hard work and achievements of HES students but also reinforces harmful societal stereotypes that associate success with specific backgrounds.

3. Undermining Professionalism: The comments, made by an instructor in a position of authority, undermine the professionalism expected within an academic institution. Such remarks can create a hostile learning environment, making HES students feel marginalized, undervalued, or inferior. This can have a detrimental impact on their academic experience, mental well-being, and overall sense of belonging within the Harvard community.

4. Violation of Inclusivity Principles: Harvard, as an institution, emphasizes inclusivity and equal opportunity for all students. The instructor's comments, suggesting that HES students are not "real" Harvard students, contradict these principles. Such statements can contribute to a divisive and exclusionary atmosphere, hindering the university's commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive community.

5. Potential Legal Implications: Discrimination and inappropriate conduct can have legal implications for an educational institution. If the comments are deemed discriminatory and violate anti-discrimination laws or the institution's policies, it could lead to legal consequences for both the instructor and the university.

6. Conflict of Interest: The comments made by the instructor on her personal Twitter account could be considered a conflict of interest, particularly due to her affiliation with Harvard University. If the instructor is identified as a Harvard faculty member on her Twitter profile, her remarks may be perceived as representative of the institution's views. The potential impact on the learning environment for students from Harvard Extension School, as well as the contradictory nature of the comments with the inclusive values Harvard aims to uphold, underscores the conflict. The association between the instructor's personal opinions and her professional role at Harvard raises concerns about the potential for these comments to create tension, undermine positive professional relationships, and contribute to a less inclusive academic atmosphere.

Furthermore, if the professor has students from Harvard Extension School in her classes, the comments may create an uncomfortable learning environment and impede the establishment of a supportive academic community. The potential conflict of interest is heightened if the comments lead to negative consequences for the enrollment and reputation of Harvard Extension School, as they might be perceived as conflicting with the institution's broader goals and values. While individuals have the right to express personal opinions on their social media accounts, the impact of such opinions on professional relationships and the overall academic atmosphere within the institution warrants consideration of the potential conflict of interest in this context.

Impact on Students

The professor's disparaging remarks about Harvard Extension School (HES) students can have a significant impact on current and prospective students, potentially creating an environment that feels unwelcoming, unsafe, and detrimental to their academic and personal well-being. Here are some ways in which these comments may affect students:

1. Undermining Confidence: The remarks may undermine the confidence of current HES students, making them question the value and legitimacy of their education. Such comments can lead to self-doubt and negatively impact students' belief in their own abilities and accomplishments.

2. Creating a Hostile Learning Environment: Students who had or have the instructor may perceive the learning environment as hostile and unsupportive. The comments can contribute to a divisive atmosphere within the classroom, affecting the sense of community and camaraderie among students.

3. Deterrence for Prospective Students: Prospective students considering HES may be discouraged by the instructor's comments, fearing a potential lack of acceptance or respect within the Harvard community. This could dissuade qualified individuals from pursuing their educational goals at HES, limiting the diversity and richness of experiences within the student body.

4. Fear of Stigmatization: Students may fear being stigmatized or judged by their peers based on the negative portrayal of HES students. This fear can lead to social isolation and reluctance to actively participate in academic and social activities, hindering their overall university experience.

5. Impact on Mental Health: Constant exposure to a negative and unwelcoming atmosphere can have adverse effects on students' mental health. Anxiety, stress, and a sense of isolation may increase, potentially leading to a decline in overall well-being and academic performance.

6. Loss of Trust in the Institution: The comments may erode students' trust in the institution itself, as they might question whether such discriminatory attitudes are endorsed or tolerated by the university. This loss of trust can impact the overall perception of the institution's commitment to inclusivity and diversity.

Transparency, in my academic plan, I had included Hochschild's course "Race in a Polarized America" as one of my choices for my degree, certificate, and second minor. Since Hochschild's behavior, I have decided it would be extremely disrespectful to my peers (and myself) for me to take the course. Toxic behavior from professors (and similar) cannot be tolerated, even if that means heavily reworking my educational and graduation plans.

Harvard Coproration’s culpability

While, like all schools, Harvard Extension School has its frustrations, it is still an integral part of Harvard University, providing opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds to access quality education…GLOBALLY. The parent brand, Harvard Universty,  must speak up to dispel the misconception that HES is not genuinely Harvard. By staying silent, the Corporation inadvertently allows the toxic narrative to persist, affecting the credibility and reputation of Extension School students.

One must question the role of the Harvard Corporation in all of this. On one hand, the brand’s site clearly states that the Extension School is one of its schools (34). Additionally, it’s clearly noted on the "About" page (of HES) in reference to the Extension School program,

“We Are Harvard

Since our founding in 1910, we have extended Harvard University to the world — to adult learners who have the curiosity and drive to be challenged. Part of the Harvard Division of Continuing Education, we serve students seeking part-time online courses and programs to advance their careers or pursue an academic passion.

We are a fully accredited Harvard school. Our degrees and certificates are adorned with the Harvard University insignia. They carry the weight of that lineage. Our graduates walk at University Commencement and become members of the Harvard Alumni Association. (35) ”

Still, the silence from the Corporation, which almost never shares anything about HES and its student’s excellence on any of its social media (36) the way it does its other brands, raises concerns about whether it shares the professor's views or is simply indifferent to the toxic narrative surrounding Harvard Extension School. Does the Corporation view Extension School students with shame? Does it believe, as the professor seems to imply, that Extension School is not truly part of the Harvard community?

The professor's remarks go beyond expressing an opinion and have the potential to create a hostile and discriminatory environment. I, personally, do not agree with much of Christopher Rufo's rhetoric, but when someone presents facts, one cannot resort to being emotionally reactive simply because one doesn't like the evidentiary facts that are being presented. Hochschild has every right to firmly disagree with Rufo, but it is not an excuse for her, a professor, to disrespect students as leverage in a personal fight on a public forum. Educational institutions should prioritize addressing such behavior to maintain a respectful and inclusive atmosphere for all students.

To address these concerns, it is crucial for the institution to take prompt action, publicly disavowing the inappropriate remarks, and reaffirming its commitment to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment for all students. Educators who are willing to publicly disparage and belittle their students should no longer have the privilege of being a professor.

It is time for the Harvard Corporation ( and its representatives) to assertively address this issue, standing up for the diverse student body at Harvard Extension School and reinforcing the values of inclusivity and equal opportunity that Harvard University claims to uphold. The dismissive remarks made by the professor should not be a reflection of Harvard's stance, and it is crucial for the Corporation's representatives to publicly disassociate from such elitist perspectives. In doing so, Harvard can reaffirm its commitment to fostering an environment where all students, regardless of their background, can thrive and contribute meaningfully to the Harvard community and society; Not doing so would have the opposite effect.







































About the Author:

Paradise Rodriguez-Bordeaux

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