Tyra Banks' Harvard Business School Problem

tyra banks“Smiling ear2ear on the Harvard Business School campus w/ my diploma! Tnx 2 my fab photographer mama 4 the pic!” via @tyrabanks / Twitter

Tyra Banks is an incredibly successful model and an extremely savvy businesswoman, as evidenced by the launch of the 19th (yes, 19th) season of America’s Next Top Model this Friday. The show has overhauled its structure and inserted a college theme this season, which is in part credited with Banks’ recent “graduation” from “Harvard Business School.” Here she is tweeting about it back in February.

Banks has made a point of talking about her time at Harvard during her media tour to promote the show, telling the Hollywood Reporter that she was pulled out of a class to discuss the its changes with her boss. But that’s led several media outlets to call her out for embellishing her Harvard Business School credentials.

Earlier this year, Banks completed a nine-week program for executives called the Owner/President Management extension program. “Clients” of the program (they’re not called students, nor do they have to take a GMAT to enroll) participate in three three-week units over the course of three years, at a cost of $33,000 per unit. It’s not part of the university’s top-ranked M.B.A program, and the alumni of the O.P.M. program are not granted a degree. As Jezebel points out:

Attending the O.P.M. course and calling it “going to Harvard Business School” is a little like enrolling in a night-time pottery extension class and saying you are “going to art school.” It’s akin to putting an honorary doctorate on your résumé as your “Ph.D.”

Harsh words for sure, but the blog then goes on to provide evidence of the media’s willingness to lap up Banks’ claims, pointing to a half-dozen articles touting her H.B.S. credentials. Which is a shame. Banks is obviously no dope. She was accepted to U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. after finishing high school but chose to begin her modeling career in Paris instead. She never did get a degree, and one can see her lingering sense of regret in this interview from last year. But despite not having a diploma, she’s gone on to start an incredibly successful empire over the last decade. It’d be a lot more honest of her to broach the subject and provide the details about her certificate, instead of pretending that a few weeks on campus is the equivalent of an M.B.A. Then she’d be able to point out a fact that’s not often discussed in fashion: that many models forgo an education to take advantage of the window of time when their looks are far more valuable than their brains. Making that point, instead of play-acting her way through the Yard, would come off with her sounding far smarter. And isn’t that what she’s going for anyway?