For job-related reasons, I have now embarked on a reading list of books related to entrepreneurial activities at colleges. First up:
Michael Shinagel: “The Gates Unbarred” (The quotation marks are actually a part of the title—a sure sign that the author is not exactly of High Literary Bent.)
The subtitle: A History of University Extension at Harvard, 1910—2009
And, just in case you didn’t figure this out from the subtitle: this is not a book you, The Reader, want to read. Indeed, the Perceptive Reader is even now wondering: How did a book with that title ever get published? As the author noted incredulously in his introduction: “When I consulted Samuel Eliot Morison’s official history of 1936, Three Centuries of Harvard, I found no mention of University Extension or the Commission on Extension Courses in his chapter ‘The Lowell Administration,’ even though President Lowell established both entities in his first year, 1909-1910.” He then goes on to note all the other histories of Harvard which neglect Harvard Extension. You, the Reader might think all this neglect is because Harvard Extension really isn’t all that important in the Grand Scheme of Things, but the author of the present book knows better. The reason Harvard Extension is neglected is because it operated at night. (Really, he says this—and I suspect he believes it.) So, to return to the question the Reader earlier asked: how did this book get published? Well, the author is the current director of Harvard Extension and the book was published by Harvard Extension.
Restating the Obvious: you have no interest in reading this book. None. Trust me. The title is the best part. (Well technically the author’s original title, Harvard After Dark, is really the best part. It’s sad to see an author move from a better title to a worse title.) But, nevertheless, I am really glad Shinagel wrote the book and I am glad to have read it. I am now a font of trivia about Harvard Extension School. Sadly, I don’t think anyone will ever actually care to know any of Said Trivia. (Did you know that the original maximum tuition for a Harvard Extension Course was the value of two bushels of wheat? Did you know the Arms of Harvard Extension has two bushels of wheat on it to mark this important historical fact?)
Extension Colleges are curious institutions, which is why I read the book. Traditional college education now aims at 18-22 year olds and runs them through a B.A. degree. Graduate degrees allow the 22 year olds to linger a bit longer in a state between adolescence and adulthood. Mission accomplished—well at least one mission. There is also that part of a college which is designed to, you know, educate. And some education is not really aimed at the traditional student. So, imagine you have a institution of higher learning and imagine you have a whole bunch of nontraditional audiences who are willing to pay for an array of courses or course-like things. The traditional college curriculum is simply not designed to meet the desires of the nontraditional audience. Hence the extension school.
Extension school are like the unwanted step-children of colleges. This is pretty odd when you think about the Modern Age. Why haven’t colleges embraced the Extension schools? Why hasn’t there been a rush to advertise how much the college is helping older, poorer, more disadvantaged, career-oriented students? I think you can sell an extension school idea using all the modern pieties of the Academy. So, why hasn’t this case been widely made?
I think it is branding. Extension schools just aren’t exciting. They need a theme song. So, I am going to suggest this one. How much education should a school provide? All together now (with a rebel yell): More, more, more.