That's Not Harvard College; That's Night School. Say It.
February 21, 2014 4:26 AM   Subscribe

Interviewing candidates for teaching position in the Boston area and we have a question: We've had several people note on their resumes that they attended Harvard. During interviews, some disclosed more specifically that they had taken a few courses at Harvard Extension but they were not accepted degree-seeking students at either the Extension School or Harvard College. The search committee isn't overly fussed about this but it got us to wondering: is it strictly ethical for a person who wasn't accepted to Harvard and wasn't enrolled in either a Harvard College or Extension School degree program state on their resume under education, "Harvard?"

Some basic internet research indicates that an undergrad degree from the Extension School reads as, "ALB, Bachelor of Liberal Arts, Extension Studies, Harvard University."

We're meeting with people who didn't apply for acceptance into the degree-track at the extension school, they just paid to take a few classes.

Then they listed on their resume that they went to Harvard. Is this kosher or does it, as one committee member suggests, indicate that people are inflating their resume in something that's pretty easy to see is an exaggeration/outright lie?
posted by kinetic to Education (99 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is this kosher or does it, as one committee member suggests, indicate that people are inflating their resume in something that's pretty easy to see is an exaggeration/outright lie?

Not kosher, in my opinion, and a definite inflation/exaggeration. Of course, it isn't an outright lie, either. On balance, I'd be unimpressed with these candidates and unlikely to hire them.

(I say this as someone attending a prestigious university for grad school. The specific college I'm in within the university is good but not amazingly well-known/prestigious. My resume clearly lists both the university and the actual college I'm in, to avoid just this type of confusion and to avoid looking like I'm trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes.)
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:32 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]

I guess my opinion would be, if Harvard accepted tuition money from them, they have the right to state that they attended Harvard.
posted by HuronBob at 4:42 AM on February 21 [17 favorites]

...they just paid to take a few classes. Then they listed on their resume that they went to Harvard.

What is the supposedly more-ethical alternative? They attended some classes at Harvard and said so. Are they supposed to write 'NOTICE: NOT AN ACTUAL HARVARD GRADUATE!'
posted by jon1270 at 4:44 AM on February 21 [10 favorites]

It would depend on what was said on the resume. Just Harvard University and dates?

Would you think it was unethical if they had taken classes at a community college and listed "East Podunk Community College, 2008–2009" on their resume?

What if they had taken classes at a state university and listed "University of Bigstate at Collegetown, 2009–2010" on their resume?

If not (and I don't think either of those are unethical), then you have nothing to complain about for Harvard. If you want to know whether they got a degree somewhere, look for the degree itself on the resume.
posted by grouse at 4:48 AM on February 21 [8 favorites]

What is the supposedly more-ethical alternative? They attended some classes at Harvard and said so. Are they supposed to write 'NOTICE: NOT AN ACTUAL HARVARD GRADUATE!'

Write that they took non-degree courses at Harvard Extension School.
posted by The Michael The at 4:48 AM on February 21 [9 favorites]

What is the supposedly more-ethical alternative?

A committee member thinks a more ethical alternative is to say they took non-degree courses at Harvard Extension School.

And also, writing it as "Harvard College" is outright incorrect, and Harvard University is purposely misleading.
posted by kinetic at 4:50 AM on February 21 [5 favorites]

Write that they took non-degree courses at Harvard Extension School.

This. They did not attend Harvard College. They went to a few classes at the Extension School. They know exactly what game they are playing by simply putting "Harvard" on their resume.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:51 AM on February 21 [22 favorites]

Did any of them write "Harvard College" outright? That is fraud.
posted by grouse at 4:54 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

I guess, if you want to create a new underclass in the hierarchy of job applicants, that's up to you and your colleagues. From what it sounds like your colleague thinks:

Ivy League > Great Schools > Mediocre Schools > Poor Schools > and Extension Schools = For Profit College

A lot of people see those placards on the T, and have heard that an MBA from Harvard is a desirable thing, and due to life, due to finances, or whatever, they don't have one yet. Then one day they scrape the coin and/or the time together and suddenly they are attending Harvard.

At some point the mind of the applicant works like this:

Ivy League > Night School at an Ivy League (but pretty close) > Great School > Mediocre School > Poor School > For Profit College

You could do the mental calculus, but if your colleague would like to degree/credentials shame, I guess this is up to him. It all depends whether you would like to be rude to applicants based on their miscalculations of what their degree is worth to your organization. That's up to you.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:58 AM on February 21 [19 favorites]

I have close knowledge of this because of being enrolled in a comparable program and knowing people who are B.A. Candidates at the Extension School.

It is absolutely not okay for them to be writing that they attended Harvard and this would be an immediate disqualification in my book. People who have received a degree from the Harvard Extension School (which is a rigorous program taught by Harvard professors) are supposed to write on their resume that they attended the Harvard Extension School. If I were interviewing candidates, this degree would be equivalent in my mind to attending Harvard -- same profs, same rigor; just non-traditional instead of traditional, so Harvard gives them a different diploma. There are requirements to get into the Extension School (I think you need to take 3 courses through it and get a minimum of a B in each).

And then the fact that they took a few classes -- great, but they need to note that it was a few classes. And really this shouldn't even matter unless they're relevant to the position they're applying for. Anything else is just resume padding. Example: I took a very relevant summer course through another university because it's not offered by my university but greatly improves my qualifications. I note, on my resume, dates of attendance (Summer 20XX) and the course name. Something on this order is the only correct way of noting this on a resume.

People have gotten fired over less. With the recent trend in more masters being a "Masters of [subject] (rather than MA or MS), a graduate of my department noted "MS" on her resume instead of "Masters of [subject]", and when her employer found out she did not have an MS, they considered this a fraudulent resume and fired her on the spot.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:59 AM on February 21 [19 favorites]

Pretty sure Harvard Extension School exists so that people can put Harvard on their resumes. I've seen similar things in bios from (perfectly excellent and overall ethical) coworkers -- "took classes at the extension school at Harvard." I wonder if they are encouraged to word it that way by HES career counselors?
posted by olinerd at 5:00 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]

Ivy League > Night School at an Ivy League (but pretty close)

Like I said, there is a difference between an accepted degree-seeking candidate, and someone who took a few classes. A degree from an Ivy League is a degree from an Ivy League -- they don't "dumb down" night classes just for funsies, and the curriculum and major requirements are generally the same (varies by school).
posted by DoubleLune at 5:01 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

Did any of them write "Harvard College" outright? That is fraud.

Yes. And we're not trying to create an underclass of anything, we're just trying to figure out if this is purposeful deceit and an indication this is perhaps a candidate who will lie about other issues, once hired.
posted by kinetic at 5:09 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]

I'm a Harvard employee (but not speaking in that capacity!) and an Extension School student (admitted and enrolled in an ALM program, less I get accused of anything here...). The Extension School is clear with graduates that they are to list their degree on their resume as: "Harvard University, Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies, Concentration in XYZ" But that is only for someone who is in a degree program, or who holds the degree already.

That said, if you're talking about people who took a class or two at any university, but never intended to enroll in a degree program, I you're dealing with something entirely different. This is professional development, not degree seeking coursework. These applicants are not lying saying that they took XYZ-topic courses at Harvard University - they certainly did! - they're just not being clear about what school. In my eyes, that's not an ethical violation, but your organization may disagree.

Any use of "Harvard College" however, would be a clearly misleading statement.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:12 AM on February 21 [35 favorites]

Definitely not kosher to cite it as "Harvard College", and I also don't think that HES students should obscure things by just putting "Harvard University". Those seeking degrees at Harvard Extension School should make clear that it is the Extension School rather than some other graduate school of Harvard University. I have been a Teaching Assistant/Fellow for classes both at Harvard Extension and at Harvard College, and they were markedly different both in terms of quality of teaching and quality of students (the latter especially at the lower end). Although many of the professors at HES are Harvard professors, this is not their day job. And perhaps more importantly, the TAs (TFs) that HES has are often different in qualifications and background than those teaching other Harvard courses - this is crucial, because in many courses, the professor has hardly any contact with students, so the profile of the TAs (TFs) is crucial. In my experience with both (which is of course limited), they are not definitely equivalent.
posted by ClaireBear at 5:12 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

FYI - "Harvard College" is the undergraduate program. If any of them are claiming to have taken graduate-level coursework at Harvard College, they are both liars, and stupid.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:13 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]

It's not unknown. Author and somewhat dodgy former politico Jeffrey Archer claims an Oxford degree despite attending the extension.
posted by scruss at 5:16 AM on February 21

I have taken coursework at numerous colleges that were not degree deferring after earning my BA. I was just taking classes for fun.

On my resume what I'd put if I took classes at Harvard Extension School is:

Harvard Extension School 2013-2014 (or whenever I took classes)
Coursework in: (Basic overview of courses, like: French, French Culture, Sociology)

You'll notice I don't list degrees because I didn't earn a degree, but I don't see listing the extra coursework itself problematic, especially if the coursework is relative to the job. But I do think that the candidates should be clearer in how they are presenting which school they went to, yes.

But I don't think putting Harvard University is unethical, because the Ext. School is just one of the many schools Harvard has.
posted by zizzle at 5:16 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]

There are two issues here. One is the misrepresentation of having been enrolled at "Harvard College". The other is the distinction of having been in a degree program or not. The first is serious. The second is not an issue unless they specifically claim to have received a degree or were a candidate for a degree.

There's a line on my resume that says [University] [Night School] MM/YY-MM/YY and lists the classes I took. If I eliminated the [Night School] part, I wouldn't consider it especially scandalous. And I never claimed to be a candidate for a specific degree.
posted by deanc at 5:16 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]

Just to clarify, I'm not trying to create an "underclass", or to suggest that Harvard Extension School doesn't provide awesome services for the community. I think that what HES offers is fantastic - its courses are extremely affordable, good quality for what they are, accessible to those for whom other options might not be in reach, etc. I have even taken a HES course myself as a student. The quality in my opinion is great for the price. All that I'm saying is that I have had experience with courses in several different Harvard schools (Harvard College as well as a few of the graduate schools), and in my experience, courses at Harvard College and the more traditional graduate schools are quite different from HES courses, both in the teaching quality and in the academic quality and preparedness of the students themselves.
posted by ClaireBear at 5:20 AM on February 21

I'm currently getting an M.A. at Harvard Extension School. First of all, there are, I think, 16 different degree-granting programs within Harvard University, and the University gives you a clear recommendation about how you are supposed to list your degree, and it does specify "Extension" - saying just "Harvard," implies you went to Harvard College, but if you really went to Harvard College, you would say "Harvard College." And if you are going to Harvard Graduate School, you would specify the entire name of the Graduate School, e.g. "Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences," "Harvard Law School," "Harvard Graduate School of Design," etc. So there is actually no single degree-granting program just called "Harvard," and any time you see it listed unspecifically, you should ask what the story is.

At the same time, it's entirely possible that someone went to Harvard Extension School (HES) and received a degree. HES is interesting in that doesn't have a selective process for taking classes. Anyone can take classes, and classes don't have to lead to a degree - you can take as many as you want, in any department. However, it is selective and decently rigorous if you enter a degree program. You apply to enter the degree program, you go through a review process, and then you have the same kinds of requirements you'd have in any degree program. My Master's program, for instance, offers everything I'd find at many other graduate programs in this field, is just as demanding, requires a thesis, etc. When I graduate, I'll have a real Master's, from a Harvard University School, and have been taught by Harvard faculty and used Harvard resources the whole way. The same is true for someone who has a B.A. or B.S. from HES.

So you should definitely raise an eyebrow if you ever just see "Harvard" listed - because it should say more than that, and it should be specific about which school of Harvard the person is claiming to have attended. At the same time, seeing "Extension" most definitely does not always mean the person "just paid to take some classes." They could very well be engaged in a serious and directed program of study resulting in a real degree from a real Harvard school.

It's what DoubleLune and a few others said. No one should represent themselves with just "Harvard," and if they just took a few classes, they can't list a degree or a degree program. They are required by Harvard to represent their exact program on a resume - they are supposed to follow the guidelines in their degree program. But if they did list a degree program, far from being just a cash cow for the university, they are engaged in an academic course of study that's designed for working professionals and continuing education and is (at least at Harvard) every bit as solid as most other similar degree programs out there and deserves that respect.
posted by Miko at 5:29 AM on February 21 [12 favorites]

If classes they took in a non-degree program are relevant to the requirements of the position then such courses can be listed, as long as they're listed accurately.
posted by mareli at 5:29 AM on February 21

What if this person had put "University of Arizona" on their resume, and you found out that they had only taken non-degree courses at an extension school? Would you care that much if the school in question wasn't Harvard?
posted by deathpanels at 5:30 AM on February 21 [10 favorites]

There are two things at work here:

1. Ivy Snobbery

2. People who have bought into Ivy Snobbery

I think that people should be perfectly comfortable listing "Harvard Extension" on their resumes, and having it be judged the same as Harvard. If the same professor teaches on campus or at the Holiday Inn, it's the same experience, no?

I attended UC Berkeley Extension, and had one of the best classes of my life there. The professor taught both on campus, and at the off-site location where I took the class. I am 100% sure that I got the exact same amount of education and knowledge as someone who had to walk down Shattuck to get to school.

Yes, we all think that people who attended Harvard are better than we are.

If you're looking for an adjunct, and this person is using Harvard on his or her resume without the Extension, I'd be inclined to give that person a miss. Because they don't have faith that the education they received is of Harvard quality, or because they think you're stupid.

I'd hire someone who attended Slippery Rock Teacher's College, if they could demonstrate mastery of the subject and if they were confident in their education, over someone who believed that they need to pass off a couple of extension courses off campus as Harvard College.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:30 AM on February 21 [6 favorites]

I think it comes down to intent. Were they trying to give the impression they were Harvard graduates or at least degree seeking students at Harvard, when clearly they weren't? Or is just a little bit of sloppiness on their part on the resume?

Neither is really a good thing, but one is clearly much worse.
posted by COD at 5:30 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]

They aren't claiming to have a degree from Harvard, right? If they don't claim to have a degree, I'm not quite seeing how it makes a difference that they aren't degree candidates. The classes at Harvard Extension are real classes, and you can learn real skills from them. I could see some value in putting a class or two on a resume to show particular skills.

I would expect any college or university on a resume without a degree (or degree sought) would be treated differently than someone listing a degree. It feels complicated because the Harvard brand has a lot of emotion pull around Boston, but it isn't different, really.

Edited to add a disclaimer: I am also a Harvard Extension MA candidate.
posted by catalytics at 5:34 AM on February 21 [5 favorites]

in my experience, courses at Harvard College and the more traditional graduate schools are quite different from HES courses, both in the teaching quality and in the academic quality and preparedness of the students themselves.

It's worth pointing out that HES students can and do take classes in the other graduate schools of Harvard - there is not a hard wall of separation between the programs, so an HES student may have experienced many of the same academic settings another Harvard graduate school is providing. I have done so too. Though the quality of my classes has varied, I did not find the classes in other programs to be all that different - at least not in my program. As with all degrees, class/professor choice is everything; in general, the more advanced/specific the class, the better the student group and preparation.
posted by Miko at 5:37 AM on February 21

One other random thought: it's not clear what field you're hiring teachers in, but the HES does a brisk business in skilling-up classes in computer science and business. Those courses are many and active and busy, and I think it's the largest program within the HES in which students are mostly not pursuing a degree, but are staying current, improving skills, etc - often sent by employers. If it's someone taking those classes I'd say there's less of an expectation that they're doing so in pursuit of a degree - it's more modular learning.
posted by Miko at 5:42 AM on February 21

It is absolutely not okay for them to be writing that they attended Harvard

But they did.

This is a broader and probably therefore less useful response, but I can never understand why the onus should be on the applicant to be so virtuous as to resist presenting themselves in the best possible (non-fraudulent) light. Hiring processes should be designed so that if – for example – the full name of the sub-section of the educational institution matters to the hirers, they demand that full name in a field on an application form; if it matters whether it was a degree course or not, the application materials should ask whether a degree was obtained yes/no; etc etc.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:44 AM on February 21 [5 favorites]

I'm inclined to think the Harvard angle is clouding your judgement. There are well-trodden ways to include coursework that didn't result in a degree on resumes (see a zillion AskMes about dropping out of grad school) and it's clear how Harvard wants extension degrees listed on resumes.* As long as someone does whichever one of those things is relevant correctly, you want to know whether the classes they took gave them relevant skills and what their grades were. It makes no sense to treat two twenty-five year-olds differently because one got into Harvard at 18 and dropped out for whatever reason and the other took a couple of extension classes. Depending on each person's circumstances, which one I'd look on more favorably could well change.

*Though what they say in that FAQ isn't what the HES career center says (PDF), which is basically "Harvard University, Extension School, [Degree] in [Subject]", either because the degrees don't actually say "Extension Studies" or because "Extension Studies" sounds ridiculous.
posted by hoyland at 5:44 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]

To me, there's a big difference between saying on your resume: "Completed coursework in ____ and _____, Harvard extension program" and "Harvard" with no other details."

I don't know if it's an "ethical" violation, per se, but it is definitely a little obfuscating. I guess everyone plays this game a little in the job search, massaging the details without outright lying just so that their resume can get picked up out of the pile. For me it's an eyeroll thing, not an outright lie.

I don't think you're being needlessly judgmental. I mean, you're looking for a colleague based on a single piece of paper. Being judgmental is kind of the point.
posted by Think_Long at 5:46 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]

Any use of "Harvard College" however, would be a clearly misleading statement.

If they only took a couple classes there, they may not know that. I don't think such a person who writes Harvard University/College on their resume is going to turn out to be a liar, but a more fastidious person would cite their coursework in a clearer fashion especially since Harvard seems to have guidelines about how to list their schools on resumes. If fastidiousness is a quality you are looking for in a job candidate, then you should dock those who are unclear about their Harvard affiliation (really, you should dock anyone who is unclear about anything on their resume - not just Harvard-related).

If they are listing Harvard Extension School and dates, but not saying it was non-degree seeking coursework, that seems fine to me. If they don't claim to have received a degree there , then I would just assume they were taking non-degree classes. Usually people who are graduating soon with a degree, write "MS, expected graduation date June 2014" or whatever.
posted by bluefly at 5:47 AM on February 21

Ethically, I think your only requirement is not to lie. If you say "Harvard University", and you actually attended classes at Harvard University, then you're not lying, even if you attended the low-class bit of Harvard that is reserved for the kind of people who aren't legacy admits. However, from a tactical standpoint, I don't think it's smart to seem to imply that you attended Harvard College unless you actually attended Harvard College, because potential employers might think you're being devious and get pissed off.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:49 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]

A Harvard College grad here, for what it is worth.

Nobody should be writing "Harvard University" or "Harvard" on their CV. The University consists of 13 schools. I did not get my degree from Harvard Divinity School or Harvard Law School, as an example.

My CV says "Harvard College" and my degree "AB Physics" and my year. This is pretty clear, If they are writing Harvard College and they went to the Extension school, that is fraudulent. If they are writing just "Harvard" it may be ignorance or it may be an intent to deceive. Both are qualities I wouldn't appreciate in a job candidate.
posted by vacapinta at 5:52 AM on February 21 [7 favorites]

If they only took a couple classes there, they may not know that.

I have never met anybody who did not attend Harvard College themselves who actually uses that term, everyone else says Harvard University. I think other posters have made it clear that the Extension School is at some pains to draw the distinction.

It's one among many secret handshakes used by Harvard College alums.

mr vino '73cl
posted by mr vino at 5:52 AM on February 21

I don't think the employer is being a crazy stickler. Resume fraud is a thing, and though this is a low-level example, it sometimes results in really lousy things like people being paid large leadership salaries who, it turns out, never got a degree of any kind, etc. When you apply for a job you are representing yourself as a sort of a good, and it is ethical to represent that good accurately. I agree that someone who takes ethical obligations seriously should not state anything counter to fact on their resume; here's a thing about what to look for.
posted by Miko at 5:54 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

Any resume I have ever seen lists *degrees* earned under "Education," and then might also include various non-degree programs and classes.

Many, many people take Continuing Ed classes at elite universities. Since it's one way these institutions make money by selling the prestige of their names, it's certainly fair to describe one's actual educational experience, accurately, including the institution name. But any implication that someone went to "Harvard College" or has a degree from Harvard when they took a few extension courses outside of the degree track is essentially *trying* to deceive people in a knowing way with puffery, and that would rule them out as an employee if I were in the hiring role.

In other words, you should describe exactly what you did, and no one will ever suspect you of lying about your education.

But there is an epidemic of this in our society and no one really seems to care. Last year, Kentucky senate candidate (Mitch McConnell's Tea Party challenger) Matt Bevins was caught claiming on his linkedin biography that he had a "Master's in Entrepreneurship" from "MIT's Endicott Campus." Turns out he had attended some one week-for profit seminar put on by a loose MIT alumni affiliate group at a conference center at MIT called "Endicott House" that you can rent out for such purposes.

It made exactly no splash or impression on the polls in Kentucky. Many of Bevin's defenders seem to be saying "so what, everyone does this."

That, unfortunately, is a real and big problem, and the elite institutions have somewhat brought it upon themselves (in the context of a dishonest society) by licensing their names for maximum profitability.

Short answer: figure out if the person is lying, exaggerating, or ignorant of the proper form for citing her/his credentials and educational accomplishments. On a scale, the first is worst and the last least worst, but in any case there is no justification whatsoever for implying, let alone claiming, to have been admitted into (or having completed) a degree program at a top university if you havent actually done that.

I teach in an elite university with a continuing ed extension program. The people who take those classes come from all walks of life, and are increasingly international students punching up the min number of credits they need to be taking in order to have a student visa and live in New York City (many are very wealthy Chinese students in recent years, about whom I am convinced the whole reason for being "enrolled" in my school is so they can live the Rich Life in NYC). I have no doubt that in their home country the distinctions between "X University Continuing Ed" and "X University College" are hardly salient. Some of those students are highly educated and brilliant. Some are literally only phoning it in and doing the bare minimum to keep themselves enrolled. Some take one course, some take many, some transfer into the non-traditional degree program.
posted by spitbull at 6:00 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

it sometimes results in really lousy things like people being paid large leadership salaries who, it turns out, never got a degree of any kind, etc.

That's silly - degrees shouldn't lead to compensation, competency should lead to compensation. If someone doesn't lie in their employment process (in this particular question, writing "Harvard College" would be lying) and manages to convince their employer they are a highly valuable employee, it's not the employee's fault their employer pays them accordingly.

More topically to this question, this is what interviews are for. A potential employee that thinks one of their highest qualifications worthy of putting on their resume is a couple classes at Harvard College or Harvard University Extension School is probably not worth hiring. I think this makes any ethics questions academic (pun intended).
posted by saeculorum at 6:01 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]

If they wrote "Harvard College" and didn't go to that part of Harvard University, that's a problem. But if they just went to some part of Harvard University and wrote "Harvard University, 2013–14" on their résumé, who even cares? (Obviously a lot of people in this thread—but still.) I'm not beholden to any university's PR or career department in terms of how I phrase things—who cares what their "proper form" is if I'm not applying to a job in academia? I don't feel like applicants should be beholden to something like that either. As others have stated, this is what interviews are for, if the applicant's qualifications across the board get them there.

These subtleties of phrasing are a sort of dog whistle to those "in the know," which could work in one's favor apparently—but if someone doesn't observe the secret-handshake subtleties of how one is "supposed" to phrase their program, whatever. It's not a disqualifying offense, in my opinion.
posted by limeonaire at 6:04 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]

There is a "proper form" for citing your educational accomplishments in the business and private sector worlds too. It is not as simple as "competence" vs. "credentials." Someone who is hired on the basis of inflated, exaggerated, or mis-represented credentials has an unfair advantage over an equally "competent" candidate who tells the truth. How fair is that?
posted by spitbull at 6:06 AM on February 21

That's silly - degrees shouldn't lead to compensation, competency should lead to compensation.em accordingly.

That assumption is not shared by many employers. Especially (as is not uncommon) when a job description clearly states in the requirements that a certain degree is a prerequisite for application. Dishonesty is a serious and pervasive problem in workplaces, not a desirable characteristic in most fields - screening for it in the employment process is a very wise thing to do.
posted by Miko at 6:07 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

I think it totally depends on what their intent is and what kind of position you're hiring them into. If they're applying for mid-level or higher administrative position at a college? I would expect them to know how to properly list their educational experience on their resume, and would consider them saying "Harvard College" when they attended HES to be either incompetence or a sad little attempt at fraud.

On the other hand if you're hiring for a position that doesn't require a degree and the person doesn't have a background in academia, I wouldn't get all worked up about it.

Basically, describing coursework the way these people have done could be an incompetent attempt to present themselves in the best possible light, or it could be deliberate obfuscation. In some cases I would find both of those to be dealbreakers, in other cases I would pretty much ignore it.
posted by mskyle at 6:15 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]

Dishonesty is a serious and pervasive problem in workplaces...

Flirting with a derail here, but I think saeculorum's point was that lack of a degree doesn't preclude a high level of competence and shouldn't rule out leadership positions or high salaries. I doubt he was defending resume fraud.
posted by jon1270 at 6:19 AM on February 21

Honestly though, if this is one of those things that you are make or break about, I'd work it as follows:

Way back at the beginning, if I look at a resume and the person looks like they went to some aspect of Harvard, as long as it makes sense with the rest of their resume, I'll consider bringing them in - assuming they have a useful skill set. If their experience doesn't line up with the degree, and something seems fishy - well... flag it and forget it. Don't even bring them in. That's okay. Then, once the interview list is built, hand that list over to HR.

In any company I've worked for or applied to, before anyone sits across the table from someone that they will work with, they've got to sit in an interview with HR. Make sure that the HR rep informs the candidate that they will be going through a comprehensive background check which will confirm any and all credentials. Make sure that the applicant understands this. The HR rep should ask them if there is anything that needs to be updated on their resume. If they make you aware of any updates, this should be immediately communicated to everyone on the interview schedule.

Now, as part of the technical and cultural interview, you can focus on the candidates potential and grilling them on what they know.

At the end of the process, if the candidate has indicated they misled folks, the folks who interviewed the candidate can discuss, then have HR reach back out to the candidate and let them know that they will not be continuing in the interview process.

Then give the folks that handle your background checks explicit instructions to red flag anyone who's degree is not coded properly, particularly Harvard degrees. Have them provide you the discrepancies, and then HR can contact the person to let them know that they were rejected from the applicant pool because their degree was not listed properly. This is something that needs to be tackled by HR - not - by hiring faculty.

Now, rather than work on having to play detective yourself, you've got to work on building a stronger relationship with HR, and find a solid agency to handle background checks - elitism and snobbery can be taken off the table.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:20 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]

Yes, it is okay to do this on a resume as you've described it in the question.

If you have any further concerns about honesty, you still have the interview to help screen potential candidates.
posted by gimonca at 6:22 AM on February 21

The feeling is that if they're upfront in the interview then it's fine. But we checked out one candidate who wrote Harvard College and it turned out they audited classes at the Extension School, so that was a slight strike against them.

What if this person had put "University of Arizona" on their resume, and you found out that they had only taken non-degree courses at an extension school? Would you care that much if the school in question wasn't Harvard?

Probably. Some of us on the committee have advanced degrees (or are working on them) from the School of Education so we may not be entirely objective.

We just want to be very clear about what's honest and what isn't. And yeah, some of us are probably annoying Harvard grads/dropouts.
posted by kinetic at 6:31 AM on February 21

What if this person had put "University of Arizona" on their resume

Hey now.

Overall, I read resumes very carefully and I have a well-tuned bullshit detector. I'm not interested in hiring, or working with, people who are not able to be precise and accurate, nor am I interested in people who think it's okay to fudge credentials or have such inflated egos that they believe their own self-aggrandizement.

I've eliminated resumes from people at my university claiming job titles that a check of the HR system showed they did not have. I'm sure they thought "Oh well, those are kind of the duties I perform." Don't care. You're able to be precise and accurate, or you're out.

Unless there were other very interesting or convincing details about these applicants, I'd stick their resumes at the very bottom of the pile and forget about them. If they had other attractive qualities, I would bring their resume to the interview and ask them for details about various items including explaining what they did at Harvard.

And I would approach it like this no matter what I thought they were fudging - no Ivy snobbery involved.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:32 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]

In any company I've worked for or applied to, before anyone sits across the table from someone that they will work with, they've got to sit in an interview with HR.
That has really not been my experience. (And I say that as someone who, I'm pretty sure, got my current job on the strength of utterly irrelevant Ivy credentials, in an office that has repeatedly made stupid hiring decisions because the folks in charge were dazzled by prestigious institutions and degrees. I'd like to think that I wasn't one of those stupid hiring decisions and am very good at my job, but they have hired a lot of people who were not a good fit and didn't last long but who looked super impressive because they had a PhD or had gone to Princeton.) I think that the interview structure that you're laying out is probably only a thing at certain kinds of corporate workplaces. I never met with a separate HR rep, and I'm fairly certain that the person who checked my references was my current boss. As far as I know, nobody did a real background check on me, although I guess they could have and I never heard about it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:36 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

I have a fair number of credits from Harvard Extension. Some I transferred into my undergraduate program at a different school, and others I obtained just for personal enrichment. But I attended a good number of semesters there.

I would never seriously represent that I "attended Harvard." In fact, it's a joke I make occasionally. To satisfy my college's science requirement, I took a chaos theory class at Harvard Extension. This entitles me to joke that I "studied physics at Harvard." It is a joke. It is presented as such and made in the company of friends and family who understand it. I don't make it in job interviews. It's not on my resume.

One of my classes at Harvard Extension was a basic introduction to law. It was taught by the university's general counsel, and he kicked our asses. It wasn't "an easy A" like some night schools are. On the other hand...Harvard Extension is open enrollment. During the first two meetings of that law class, there was a disruptive girl in the front who was clearly on drugs. He ejected her the second night, and we never saw her again. Similar things might happen at the university proper, but I was in the room and I can tell you that incident was a product of open enrollment.

I can also tell you that sitting in those classrooms, it never felt like we were "at Harvard." We weren't given access to Harvard's main library. Some professors taught elsewhere at the university, but others didn't. And again, the atmosphere created by open enrollment is just very different. When I was at law school, I was always cognizant that twenty-five other people had competed for my seat. At Harvard Extension that wasn't the case. There were limited enrollment classes, but that was about it. People would walk in the second week of classes because they heard ads on AM radio.

If I put on my resume that I attended Harvard without the word Extension attached, I would consider that to be lying. That said, Harvard Extension is awesome and I encourage other people to attend.
posted by cribcage at 6:36 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]

They're not expecting a Harvard degree for a teaching position. They're expecting an accurate resume for a teaching position.

FYI, Jeffrey Archer didn't attend Oxford's "extension" program (it's actually called the Continuing Education program). He went to Oxford Polytechnic, which is a whole different institution and since 1992 has been known as Oxford Brookes University. Oxford Polytechnic/Brookes is/was a very good university, but it's not part of the University of Oxford. Anyone saying that they "went to Oxford" would be telling the truth geographically (since both are in the city of Oxford) but would be lying by implication (since "went to Oxford" is universally taken to mean "completed a degree program at the University of Oxford").

The Continuing Education program also offers degrees and diplomas and certificates and when you get a degree or diploma from them, it's a full-on, wally-wally-wango, total and utter Oxford degree, with mortar boards and everything. No disclaimers necessary.

Taking a few classes at the Continuing Education program, however, is no more serious than taking an evening class. Some of their classes are recreational or quasi-recreational and there's no obligation to work towards a diploma or certificate. If somebody attended a few of these classes and then put at the top of their resume "University of Oxford" the positioning alone implies that it's a degree-level qualification.

If it turned out that all they did was a bit of flower arranging or whatever, then I'd say they'd out-Archered Jeffrey Archer, and O God why would someone do that to themselves? Who knows what embarrassing thing they might do next? I wouldn't go near them in case any of that embarrassment landed on me.
posted by tel3path at 6:48 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

I think the ethics question might be beside the point. If someone doesn't have their shit sufficiently together to accurately describe their educational experience, their resume gets tossed in the trash for basic incompetence. End of analysis.

The reason is that it suggests they are so unfamiliar with the higher educational system that I don't give a crap what classes they took, i.e., the kind of person who thinks an online associates from University of Phoenix means they "went to college".
posted by valkyryn at 6:57 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

If they only took a couple classes there, they may not know that.

Yeah, if anything I'm appalled at the idea that people have some sort of ethical obligation to write their resume as you, the employer, wish they would write their resume, but have not told them, or even as the school would want them to write their resume.

If they attended Harvard, they have a right to write Harvard. They're not lying just because you have some snobby Harvard grads/dropouts on the committee who are like "They are devaluing my educational experience! Also, they're totally a plebe, but they're representing themselves as elite! FRAUD!"

You alter your resume for a lot of things, and many of them are visual. You don't know why they put it on there, you don't know what they mean by it. For all you know, writing "X Classes at Harvard University Extension, blah" would have broken the visual weight. The only way to get a sense for whether they are being deceptive is to get them into an interview room and ask, "You went to Harvard, eh?" And see what they say and how they respond.

If there are any ethical obligations at play here, they're not to boot someone in a rough economy because they are not exemplifying what you believe of your alma mater.
posted by corb at 7:06 AM on February 21 [5 favorites]

This is absolutely unethical and would likely get them eliminated during any professional background check and fired if found out after the fact at any place that knows anything about higher education.
posted by beanie at 7:07 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

The rule is that sins of omission are okay on resumes and sins of commission are not.
posted by michaelh at 7:09 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

tel3path: There seems to be general agreement in the Mail, Independent and on the wikipedia page for Archer that he did attend the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education.
posted by biffa at 7:12 AM on February 21

Yeah, if anything I'm appalled at the idea that people have some sort of ethical obligation to write their resume as you, the employer, wish they would write their resume, but have not told them, or even as the school would want them to write their resume.

But writing "Harvard College" when you attended Harvard Extension School, as one of the applicants did, isn't a matter of "style" -- it is flat-out lying. The professors might overlap but by definition a Harvard Extension School student, or candidate, is not enrolled in Harvard College, period.
posted by andrewesque at 7:13 AM on February 21 [6 favorites]

So, admittedly, I did not go to Harvard. But I did go to a college that had different "Schools of Blah" within them. Even though some of the schools had different rigor than others, I would personally not have found it weird if someone had referred to themselves as simply attending X College, rather than X College, School of Y. The implication is that with sets, you are always a member of the larger set even if you don't specify your smaller set.

Now, this may not be the case with Harvard, because they make millions of dollars guaranteeing exclusivity. But I think assuming that someone who has taken a few classes there is as bought into the exclusivity, and thus must be deliberately lying, is a flawed assumption. If they've only taken a few classes there, the bulk of their educational experience is likely from another place - and probably one where such things don't rate pistols at dawn.
posted by corb at 7:18 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]

Yeah, if anything I'm appalled at the idea that people have some sort of ethical obligation to write their resume as you, the employer, wish they would write their resume, but have not told them, or even as the school would want them to write their resume.

The candidates are applying to teach. If you are a candidate applying for an educational position and your employer is an educational employer and your students are expecting professional educators, you absolutely have an ethical obligation to present your own educational background accurately and completely. And you have a professional obligation to present your educational background in keeping with the requirements and protocols of the educational field.
posted by beanie at 7:19 AM on February 21 [12 favorites]

Of course you have a right to write "Harvard" if you attended Harvard. "Harvard Extension School" is the name of the college you attended, however. So if you write "Harvard College," you're lying. And if you just write "Harvard," you are taking the chance that someone reading your resume will presume you are either ignorant or deceptive, because plenty of people who did not attend Harvard actually know these distinctions.

Those who are implying that the difference is only a matter of the prestige of a name really don't know what they are talking about. It's not the same education. It's not the same faculty. It's not the same fellow students. The standards are not only lower, they don't even exist. Any moron can walk in off the street with a check and enroll in Harvard Extension classes. It is entirely uncompetitive. If you use the name "Harvard" with no modifiers to imply that you were selected and achieved something through competition with others, you're lying. Period. And it is not a victimless crime. Someone who was admitted to a modest public four year institution faced competition for that slot. You aren't better than someone who went to, say, the University of Washington for a BA because you went "to Harvard" in a completely non-competitive program and division. So all this populist "Harvard big whup" commentary is misguided. Yeah, Harvard is a snotty elitist institution and many people use their affiliation to puff themselves up in elitist and non-meritocratic ways. But the people who are *hurt* by someone deceiving others with a muddled or incomplete or inaccurate or ambiguous claim of educational background are not "Harvard" students at all. They are all the other applicants who honestly represent their credentials, no matter what those credentials are.

Harvard doesn't really care. Nor do actual graduates of Harvard degree programs who can put that on their CV without flinching or wondering how to phrase it. You aren't going to diminish the value of a Harvard AB (it's not technically a "BA," it's still a Latinate AB, and the surest way to impress someone in the know is simply to put "Harvard College, AB, 19XX" on your resume).

This is really a not about "oh Harvard, so snotty." It's about all those NON-Harvard applicants for the job who aren't pretending otherwise.

Actual Harvard College grads actually have something of a complex about this issue, or many do. The surest way to tell someone is a Harvard AB is to ask them where they went to school. The answer, from many, will be "in the Boston area."
posted by spitbull at 7:23 AM on February 21 [12 favorites]

Harvard even offers guidance to those in Extension School *degree* programs, very specifically, on this issue. (And they advertise it with "enhance your resume at the Harvard Extension School," so they are certainly raking in $ on the same ambiguity being discussed in the OP.)

Harvard University offers the following degrees in Extension Studies:

Associate in Arts
Bachelor of Liberal Arts
Master of Liberal Arts

It is acceptable, therefore, to list the ALM degree on your résumé in the following manner:

Harvard University, Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies, Concentration in history

Unacceptable: Harvard University, MA in History

I can't find the equivalent statement for the non-degree programs.
posted by spitbull at 7:28 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

[This is a response from an anonymous commenter.]
I work at one of the Harvard professional schools. My program supports itself entirely by offering professional training, executive-education type seminars. And I firmly believe that we give people a great learning experience and great value for their money. In one to five days of study.

We also give them a piece of paper (a certificate) that says "Harvard School of Heraldry"* (*Not actually Harvard School of Heraldry) on it. Not Harvard credit. Not a grade. But a piece of paper that has the words Harvard on it. Because they completed the workshop.

It's first-come first-served. We don't have prerequisites except that they pay us and speak a very basic amount of English. I can think of two or three instances in all the years I've worked where we did not give a participant a certificate--and that was for egregious instances like missing three quarters of the class.

A giant part of my job is taking calls from people saying "Can I get my certificate reprinted from thirty years ago--I must have my piece of paper" or "Was John Doe really trained at Harvard School of Heraldry in 1986? It's on his resume. And can you tell me what that means?" My colleagues maintain our social media presence, and we see the vast numbers of our participants who proudly put "Harvard School of Heraldry" down in their "Education" slots.

The other part of my job is answering questions for people who want to come to one of our programs. I tell them about what they actually learn, what books they have to buy, and how things are taught. I also answer--every single day--that yes, they will get a little piece of paper, and it will say Harvard on it.

It's how my program makes its money. It's how other professional schools make tons of money. And the Extension school is only going to grow. Because it makes lots and lots of money.
posted by cortex at 7:34 AM on February 21 [9 favorites]

tel3path: There seems to be general agreement in the Mail, Independent and on the wikipedia page for Archer that he did attend the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education.

In that case, I eat my words and apologise for so lazily disseminating misinformation.
posted by tel3path at 7:36 AM on February 21

I think it is at least a little about the Harvard prestige factor because I doubt as many people would care if you listed "University of Texas" under education somewhere when you had taken classes at the University of Texas at Austin University Extension.

If there is not a degree listed, then the reader of the resume must assume that no degree was obtained.
posted by grouse at 7:37 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]

Putting just "Harvard, 2012-2013" is probably intentionally misleading and therefore unethical. Without more information, it's meaningless, except to the extent the person expects a bump from the Harvard name. Every competent resume I've ever seen lists the specific school attended in a large university, the degree, and often the major, minor, thesis topic, honors etc. This is important information that tells the employer a lot about you. If you just list Harvard, how is the person reviewing the resume supposed to know if you're studying something relevant to the position? How are they supposed to know if you're in a rigorous, competitive program, or an open enrollment one? How are they supposed to know if you're building skills or just having fun? The primary reason to put something so vague is to convey a misleading impression. The other alternative is the person is just a really poor resume writer, which doesn't bode well. Even if someone has never seen the school's official guidance, if they don't know that resumes are supposed to contain accurate information that illustrates why the employer should hire them, then they probably aren't worth interviewing.
posted by Mavri at 7:44 AM on February 21

I've been really strident above, so I do want to emphasize I would absolutely have the same opinion if someone applying to teach as a professional listed their education at the University of Texas, Arizona, Bahamas, The Planet Mars or any other college or university incorrectly out of ignorance (at best) or with the intent to mislead. And if they thought that not breaking a line to keep the visual flow of their resume was more important than accurately describing their education? I would hope they were applying, then, to teach a course called "Resume Visual Flow".
posted by beanie at 7:48 AM on February 21

Not kosher. They are either totally ignorant of how higher education works, so you don't want them. Or, they think they are getting away with something, so you don't want them.

*Took a great course at Harvard Extension that I used to list as such on my resume in the previous century. It was PD. Been thinking of putting it back on recently now that I realize just how special it was. It will say Extension.
posted by Gotanda at 7:50 AM on February 21

It is unquestionably about the Harvard Prestige Factor! That is my point! And that's why I think commenters who are minimizing the significance of misstating one's affiliation or omitting crucial information about which part of Harvard they attended, are hurting other people who don't have a Harvard flag (even a pint-sized pennant) to wave. To be sure, this is exactly WHY a lot of people attend Ivy League continuing ed programs (and thus make a shit-ton of money for these already rich schools). So Harvard is certainly partly to blame for selling its name cheaply, and plenty of Harvard affiliates think this (plenty of faculty members, among whom I count a dozen of more close friends, would tell you right off that HCE is virtually a separate instutiton, and very few regular Harvard faculty members teach in HCE, or that used to be the case.)

I know of an elderly retired lawyer with zero academic background in the humanities who taught an HCE course on jazz, a personal passion. That's awesome, but how far is that from what you picture when you see "Harvard" on a resume?

To restate, someone who has "University of Texas at Austin, BA, Philosophy, 1991" on their resume competed for a slot at a competitive, major, high-expectation institution. Only the top 10 percent of Texas HS grads can get in, and for those out of state, it's even more competitive. I forget the ratios, but I am certain UT has at least a 5/1 ratio of applicants to admits. As an employer (albeit one in academia), I consider that "UT" line on the resume far more impressive than "Harvard" if "Harvard" means the Extension School, and I'd like to know if that is what "Harvard" means. (By the way, I am no more impressed by an "actual" Harvard degree than a UT degree, and those of us in academia are actually far less impressed by the bullshit prestige factors than you might think -- that's the candy for people outside the sausage-factory.)

Yes, some people will be impressed by any mention of "Harvard" on a resume. If you fudge your resume so that it isn't clear whether that means "Harvard College," or one of its A&S graduate programs or professional schools, or it's walk up and write a check Extension programs, you are playing that card. You are counting on the person reading your resume to be shallow or misinformed or ignorant of the facts.

If you google this topic you will find this discussion to be widespread on business blogs and job-seeking sites. The likelihood that every member of the hiring committee for any given professional job will be impressed by your fakery or ignorant of these distinctions is pretty low, and that therefore makes using "Harvard" inaccurately to raise your prestige as a candidate is not only dishonest, but very likely stupid.

Again, when you deceive people about your credentials, whatever they are, and for whatever reasons, you are seeking an unfair advantage over your fellow applicants and future fellow colleagues, some of whom may be far more competent than you, or have worked far harder for their educational credentials, or succeeded against competition you never faced. You are not sticking it to stuffy Harvard assholes, and you aren't sticking it to elitism by overlooking such deceptive puffery as the person doing the hiring.
posted by spitbull at 7:56 AM on February 21 [6 favorites]

(Sorry, HES for HCE above, I'm mixing up schools.)
posted by spitbull at 8:03 AM on February 21

The purpose of a resume is to make a job applicant look good. If the resume doesn't make them look good, then it's a crappy resume. I try to be as clear as can be on my resume but there is only so much I can do since I still limit myself to one page. When I'm vague, I try to give enough info to interest the person looking at my resume and I figure that if they're interested in interviewing me, they can ask me about it then. So I think that if, everything else being equal, you would interview that candidate, go ahead and interview them. If you wouldn't interview them otherwise, then it's a moot point.

FWIW, I went to big public research state school and did a summer program at a well-regarded Jesuit university - it wasn't Jesuit University Summer Program but it was hosted at the university and we had access to the facilities, libraries, etc. I used to put on my resume "Name of Program - studied subjects at Jesuit University, summer of year." I wasn't trying to mislead - I did study those subjects at that school. Plus I got credits for those classes so I thought that was reasonable.
posted by kat518 at 8:04 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

I think it is definitely problematic and not just because it's Harvard.
There's an assistant at my company who tells everyone he went to the University of Maryland. (This isn't particularly important re his job, as he had no degree when hired). He got his BA online at the the University of Maryland University College, which, besides being the weirdest and most confusing name ever, is an online education program that accepts anyone who signs up, that is under the umbrella of the University of Maryland. But he's saying "University of Maryland" instead of UMUC because he wants people to think he got into the University of MD, College Park, or Baltimore. Which have admission standards and from which you could (and he likely would have) been rejected. If he pulled that on a resume and was found out, it would not go well.
posted by atomicstone at 8:04 AM on February 21

Sorry to pepper this thread, but I really meant to say, not only are you not "sticking it to Harvard snobbery" when you overlook the puffed up use of the Harvard name on a resume as an employer. You are helping to perpetuate the illusion into the future. If you care about meritocracy as a principle, you seek out people who are hard working and competent, not those who have fancy schools on their resume. The real elitism is being impressed enough by "Harvard" to not care what it means in any individual case.
posted by spitbull at 8:10 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]

Interviewing candidates for teaching position in the Boston area and we have a question: We've had several people note on their resumes that they attended Harvard. During interviews, some disclosed more specifically that they had taken a few courses at Harvard Extension but they were not accepted degree-seeking students at either the Extension School or Harvard College.

So they used something to get in the door; once in, they admitted it wasn't quite true. If this is the kind of person you want as a co-worker, go for it!

I went to Harvard, not Harvard College but GSAS (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences) and yes I applied and was admitted, since it appears that we have to spell that out now. I have been a teaching fellow in the College, and lots of my friends have taught both in the College and the Extension School. There is no way that anyone who fudges this stuff--and who is not just completely lying about the whole experience-- does not know exactly what they are doing, and it says a lot about their integrity, in my opinion.
posted by BibiRose at 8:10 AM on February 21 [8 favorites]

Like Jeffrey Archer I have attended the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education. It's great and they do really interesting courses. If I said I attended Oxford University and studied Spanish I would be (technically) telling the truth and (actually) lying.

If any candidate did this I would be reluctant to employ them - because an inability to be honest about yuour own achievements, and stretching the truth in this way are huge red flags in any role - either you can't tell the truth, or you can't recognise it (and neither are good signs).
posted by Gilgongo at 8:11 AM on February 21 [5 favorites]

I don't know enough about Harvard to disagree with anybody who says it's not honest. At the same time, I also agree with those who say it's unlikely anyone would get quite so upset about it if it weren't Harvard, because being able to say "Harvard" is perceived to be a very special and important privilege, probably massively beyond its actual value in being a job applicant, and the fact that the applicant knew that is probably why they stretched in the first place.

In other words, if it's lying, it's lying because they're trying to play by rules that are very problematic anyway. I just ... the whole thing is gross. All of it shouldn't happen, and while it doesn't in any way excuse misleading information on your resume, this all just is part of such a terrible system for evaluating people for things that it's hard to even know where to begin.

I mean, this is what always happens, right? People lie about things because they get a sense that the underlying fact is incredibly important, and then when people find out they lied, they say, "Well, it's not the underlying thing; it's the fact that you lied about it," but it's very hard to know, and a lot of people walk away from something like this feeling like it's even more true than they thought that "Harvard" is a magic word only belonging to special people, and when un-special people use it, people are very, very angry in a way they wouldn't be if you appropriated a less special word. And we go round and round.

But for me, the title of this particular post, and its "That's night school" phrasing certainly smells a little bit like it's both the lying and a sense that night school is bullshit. I mean, otherwise, I don't know why the "say it" is there after "that's night school." And if, in fact, you think night school is bullshit, then you know why they -- wrongly, but perhaps understandably -- tried to avoid saying "night school" if they thought there was a technicality that could keep them clear of it.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:17 AM on February 21 [8 favorites]

I have some personal experience with this, having worked at a due diligence firm that specialized in hedge funds. Clients (typically institutional investors who didn't have a dedicated due diligence department, or who were seeking expertise in this particular field) would pay us to investigate hedge funds and hedge fund managers prior to investing, to ensure that the funds and their managers were above-board. Because of the insane way in which hedge fund compensation works, there's an enormous incentive to attract as much capital to the fund as possible as quickly as possible, which means that hedge fund managers are incentivized to do whatever it takes, up to and including bending the truth past the breaking point, to prospective clients to convince them to invest.

That's where we'd come in. Among the many things we'd do (including criminal background checks, calls to former employers, etc.) is verify CVs by calling listed institutions to confirm a manager's matriculation and graduation, attendance dates, etc. I cannot tell you how many times some scumbag hedge fund guy would say that he'd gone to Wharton or Harvard or NYU Stern, and when we called the school they'd have no idea who we were talking about because no, that guy had never attended there, and then finally they'd find his name on a list of people who had attended a 2-week seminar that was co-hosted by the school, but there was an asterisk next to his name because he'd been kicked out for getting drunk and assaulting a waiter at the opening-night mixer, or something similar. It was nuts.

In my opinion, if you took classes at a school, or attended a seminar there, or something that falls well short "enrolled/attended/graduated," then you need to explicitly specify that on your CV. If you don't, you're an asshole who's hiding behind a technicality to make yourself look like something that you're not, which as far as I'm concerned is an absolute dealbreaker when it comes to hiring.
posted by saladin at 8:24 AM on February 21 [7 favorites]

Night school isn't bullshit. I have a full degree from the same "night school" as Gilgongo attended and it has the same standing as the other Oxford degree I did full-time as an undergraduate.

What would be bullshit would be if I just took a few classes from the Conted department and then formatted my resume to make those classes look like a degree.
posted by tel3path at 8:25 AM on February 21

Night school isn't bullshit.

No, no -- I didn't mean it was! I meant "that's night school" kinda seemed to me like it carried that implication. They had a night school where I was in grad school, and the only difference between night and day students was money (by which I mean the people in the night program, because they were working, were going into less ridiculous debt).
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:26 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]

The surest way to tell someone is a Harvard AB is to ask them where they went to school. The answer, from many, will be "in the Boston area."

The amazing part about this is, nobody taught us to do it, but most Ivy kids I know will just say their school's city in precisely this manner.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:26 AM on February 21

The amazing part about this is, nobody taught us to do it, but most Ivy kids I know will just say their school's city in precisely this manner.

It's as if Yale grads get instructions to say "I went to school in Connecticut" when they get their diploma.
posted by andrewesque at 8:31 AM on February 21

Crap, somehow deleted half my comment.


It really seems like this is the sort of thing unlikely to be outright shady. At any rate, isn't the interview process really the means by which to establish the person's level of forthrightness?

Maybe Harvard is the Specialest Snowflake of the Ivy snowflakes, but I can't imagine getting my back up if someone listed my alma mater as a university, and then it turned out they had gone to General Studies, or Continuing Education.

It *might* skeeve me a bit if they listed my school but had actually gone to our sister school--they are overlapping entities but confer separate sets of degrees, nowadays.

If they claimed a degree and didn't have one, though, that's straight up sketch.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:32 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]

Harvard has catered to this practice, actively fosters it, and as we can infer from the anon comment above, has successfully monetized it.

If any blame attaches, it attaches firmly and almost exclusively to Harvard itself.
posted by jamjam at 9:02 AM on February 21 [6 favorites]

I have a relative who always does this sort of resume lawyering. He's an intelligent person with legitimate professional degrees, but his resume is full of stuff like * Taught [course title] at Princeton University, when what he really did is help his wife pass out handouts on the one day his wife was an invited guest speaker for the course. It's true that he helped teach and he's certainly not hurting any of the Princeton faculty or the Princeton name, but ...

Perhaps not unrelated, he also does this kind of rules lawyering in things like "borrowing money" from different places he works and as a result, gets quietly asked to leave his workplace every few years.

I find it very annoying that people are conflating ~Harvard elitism~ with being acceptable to lie on your resume. I know a number of people who have taken courses at the Harvard Extension school and they are always extremely clear about their affiliations. This is not an accidental formatting messup, this is deliberate misrepresentation. I don't care if someone went to Harvard College or Harvard Extension School or somewhere else entirely, I care that they are trying to fool me, because what else are they trying to fool me about? There are plenty of other excellent candidates I could hire with honest, accurately represented credentials.
posted by angst at 9:09 AM on February 21 [11 favorites]

I do not know about the qualifications that are required for your teaching position. However, I am aware of someone who taught at a graduate level, accredited institution for a number of years.

The individual was always addressed as "Dr. X" by students, and from all appearances seemed to be a gifted, engaged teacher. Nonetheless, when this person was found *not* to have a doctorate (rather, they had two masters from an Ivy League school--I am not sure if the person was ABD or not), they were immediately dismissed by the institution mid-semester, and they have never worked in academia again.

There are repercussions for the institution, in terms of reputation and accreditation, if faculty do not have the actual credentials they are claiming.
posted by apartment dweller at 9:17 AM on February 21

Hi. Former HR here.

Everyone take out your resume. Read that first bullet point under your current position. Really? You did that ALL by yourself? Would your boss even agree that you did that?

Everyone fudges stuff on their resume. Everyone. This will not get any better.

It's the job of a GOOD HR person to find out what is true and what can be seen as " meant that, rather than the common usage of the word".

So go on and write Harvard. I will ask you when you got accepted, when you graduated, what you did while you were there, and perhaps a copy of your transcript and maybe even a letter of recommendation since you went to a school that puts a lot of value on "who you know".

Don't worry, I'll find out what's up. If you or your company doesn't while it is hiring...then you really aren't taking the role of HR seriously.

Let the players play.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:25 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]

The OP is hiring someone for a "teaching position," although we don't know the details.

I for one would not be comfortable hiring someone for a teaching position under the rubric of "everyone cheats a little."
posted by spitbull at 9:36 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]

While not entirely incorrect, it is VERY misleading, particularly if they did not earn a degree there, but rather took a few continuing education classes in a non-degree program.

If I were in that situation, I'd list that under "Education," but I'd be truthful and say "Harvard Extension, classes in non-degree program." They know what they're doing writing "Harvard College" or "Harvard University" on their resumes. While they certainly did take Harvard classes, at Harvard, it's misleading, and do you want to hire someone who is dishonest in that way? Your choice.

Then again, the fact that it was the Extension School and not a degree program should bear out with a few simple interview questions: "I see you went to Harvard. When did you graduate?" Or have your HR department call the Harvard Registrar to verify enrollment and degree status. Gotcha.
posted by tckma at 9:44 AM on February 21

Not kosher, not even close. Unless you are admitted as a degree candidate Harvard Extension is just a glorified Adult Learning Center. Classes are not always taught by "Harvard Professors". When I did a few classes about 1/2 were taught by grad students. And No one should ever conflate the Harvard School of Extension Studies with Harvard University.
posted by Gungho at 10:05 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

I think some of this is context dependent. If the candidate says "Harvard University" and lists the classes he took and what dates he was there, fine. No one would mistake that for a full time student.

If he said "Harvard", gave a date range that looks like full time enrollment, and listed a "major", implying that he received a degree, bad.

From your question, it sounds like he did something like the latter, and your indignation would be justified. If he did the former, then it just sounds like you're trying to get him to "admit" something he wasn't actively covering up in the first place.
posted by deanc at 10:20 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

Read that first bullet point under your current position. Really? You did that ALL by yourself? Would your boss even agree that you did that?

Actually yeah. As an applicant I'm very much "what it says on the tin." Now you have me wondering whether people assume I'm a liar, instead of someone who's just really good at her job.

When I did a few classes about 1/2 were taught by grad students.

This was also true of my classes at Definitely No Question An Official Ivy League University where I was conferred an Actual 4 year degree. It's pretty standard practice in most institutions nowadays particularly for intro-level coursework.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:25 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]

I guess what I don't understand is, anyone who doesn't have their resume's education section written clearly enough that it's either a verifiable truth or a lie doesn't really know how to write a resume, which would be a huge red flag in and of itself in most situations. Aside from that, surely any savvy employer in the area knows how large and internally diverse Harvard University is and that vaguely listing "Harvard" under education would be about as meaningless as simply listing, like, "Commonwealth of Massachusetts" under work experience.
posted by threeants at 11:03 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

Everyone take out your resume. Read that first bullet point under your current position. Really? You did that ALL by yourself? Would your boss even agree that you did that?


Everyone fudges stuff on their resume. Everyone. This will not get any better.

I don't think so, because I don't fudge stuff on my resume, and it takes me to make everyone.
posted by tel3path at 11:24 AM on February 21 [11 favorites]

(It's just kind of odd to me that anyone would bother with Harvard-related shenanigans in looking for work in the Boston area. Obviously the name always has cachet, but Harvard's zillion tentacles are so omnipresent in everything here that it's kind of mundane, not like OMG GET THIS PERSON A JOB RIGHT NOW...the risk/reward ratio of trying to disingenuously impress people with this just seems way off.)
posted by threeants at 11:26 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

Every competent resume I've ever seen lists the specific school attended in a large university, the degree, and often the major, minor, thesis topic, honors etc. This is important information that tells the employer a lot about you.

This is your experience. In my experience and in my field, no, you don't need every damn thing on your résumé, especially considering that résumés outside of the arts and collegiate academia are almost always expected to be a single page. Space is at a premium, and there is no need to list the specific school you enrolled in within a university or your thesis topic. University, degree, major, and any honors and/or minors are all that I would reasonably expect anyone to detail re: their schooling.
posted by limeonaire at 11:34 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]

I think how this is being handled right now is basically exactly how it should be handled. I suspect most of the people are not being intentionally dishonest, but--okay, so, either way. Either you are screening for people who are being dishonest... or you are screening for people who don't actually know the difference between Harvard College and Harvard Extension School. Win/win, isn't it? If someone puts it down in such a way that it's not totally clear that it's the extension school but it is totally clear that it was just a few classes and not a degree, you're going to look at that differently than someone who's making it look like they did a degree program they don't have, but you're pretty easily able to tell the difference based on just asking a question or two in the interview.

I suspect a lot of the mistakes are totally innocent, just because I have seen people do all sorts of weird and dumb things with resumes, but I don't see any reason not to expect that a competent person would be a little more scrupulous with how they recorded it all.
posted by Sequence at 11:53 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

Reading the OP again: it sounds as though, perhaps based in part on the fact that 'Harvard' is mentioned, the search committee is calling candidates in for interviews, and then,

During interviews, some disclosed more specifically that they had taken a few courses at Harvard Extension but they were not accepted degree-seeking students at either the Extension School or Harvard College.

I would expect that "a few courses"--as in continuing education, generally a good thing--would be spelled out on the resume as to the nature of the coursework and its relationship to the position in question. A reference simply to "Harvard" without qualifying names of courses, dates, or relevance to the open position is (in my opinion) irrelevant and yes, possibly [intentionally] misleading (per saladin's post above).

I wouldn't bring anyone in for a face to face interview without asking a few clarifying questions over the phone first for a claim on a resume that seemed vague.
posted by apartment dweller at 12:30 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]

If any blame attaches, it attaches firmly and almost exclusively to Harvard itself.

I really disagree. Yes, in the big picture Harvard is trading on the prestige of its name. But that does not absolve any individual of a responsibility to be honest. First, Harvard does provide specific guidance and the names of the different schools and degree programs really are different.

Second, and more importantly, Harvard isn't applying for a job. An individual is. If you cynically believe that "everybody lies" on a resume, or that Harvard winks at the practice of using its name inaccurately, then you believe every person who represents themselves honestly and without affected airs or pretense is just a dupe for being honest.

At least in hiring for a teaching position, as I and others above have said, "the system made me be dishonest" really doesn't cut it as a standard of ethical conduct. Maybe when you are hiring a cut-throat salesman or hard-hitting corporate manager or something, you look for self-aggrandizement and willingness to lie to close a deal or say what you think others want to hear regardless of the truth, it's a good sign that they inflate their credentials on a resume. I wouldn't know how the thinking goes in hiring a real estate broker for Donald Trump Enterprises.

I just strongly dispute that "everyone does it." I don't. I've been involved in many hirings and firings in my career, and in academia, even a hint of inflation on a CV can be a deal breaker for a hire or a tenure process. Everyone most assuredly does not inflate her/his credentials. It would be insanely foolish as a career move, and as someone above said, those that get caught often ruin their careers. I have personally seen a tenure case fail on the charge that a CV was grossly over-inflated in the way it phrased various accomplishments (in an artistic field, however).
posted by spitbull at 3:36 PM on February 21 [4 favorites]

For whatever reason, when I worked in New York I saw tons of resumes from people who went to Harvard Extension and just put "2006-2007 Harvard." Now whenever I see "Harvard" without a degree or just a single graduation date, I just assume it means they went to Harvard Extension School. I guess I don't think it's such a bad thing, especially considering how many people working for the US government seem to have degrees from straight up degree mills. I did pre-med at Harvard Extension School, and most of the courses I took were better than the classes I took during my "real" undergraduate degree program. That said, I never hired any of the "Harvard" people.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 3:45 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]

In this context, "Education: Harvard" = deceit.
posted by ADave at 10:29 PM on February 21

[A few comments deleted. This isn't the place to discuss/argue with each other or chat generally about the topic; please just address the OP with your advice on the question. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 4:20 AM on February 22

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