Tyra Banks is everywhere in the news right now. That's because tonight the latest "cycle" of America's Next Top Model makes its debut. The season boasts new judges and mentors — fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone, male model Rob Evans, stylist Johnny Wujek, blogger BryanBoy, and some kind of Miss J. replacement named Jonte — and a new theme: College. As has been widely reported, Banks chose this theme because of her recent (and highly publicized) involvement with Harvard University.
Banks even found a way to reference Harvard in this new ANTM promotional interview with The Hollywood Reporter, which asked whether the changes in the show came about at the request of the network. In explaining that an unnamed T.V. executive called her, Banks said, "I got pulled out of a class at Harvard," to take the phone call. "Even though I went to business school, it was my boss that gave me a big lesson about rejuvenation and making something that's been around a long time fresh and exciting again."
Anyone reading that sentence would probably come away with the understanding that Tyra Banks was, at the time of that phone call, enrolled in the M.B.A. program at Harvard Business School. That's what people normally mean when they say they "went to business school," and Banks helpfully dropped the H-bomb.
But that isn't true. Banks never attended Harvard Business School in the usual sense. She does not have an M.B.A. and has never taken classes towards an M.B.A.
What Banks attended was a non-degree-granting certificate course at Harvard called the Owner/President Management Program. The O.P.M. has "no formal educational requirements" for would-be "clients" (the program doesn't refer to attendees as "students") and its classes do not count towards any university degree or qualification. It's taught in three three-week units and currently costs clients $33,000 per unit. The application form does not have a space for applicants to list their GMAT scores — it doesn't require any, because it's not a graduate program — but it does ask about their annual compensation. The head of the O.P.M. program told the Harvard Crimson it is "very different from a full-time M.B.A. degree program." 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."
This isn't to say that Tyra Banks is a dummy. She was reportedly an honor student in high school, and she was admitted to U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. She opted to attend Loyola Marymount. But — like many models who find that their peak earning years in an industry that fetishizes youth coincide with the years most people spend working on their education — she dropped out in her first semester to go to Milan and Paris and work. Tyra Banks never returned to college to complete her undergraduate degree. Banks has, in fact, never graduated from any university, let alone Harvard.
Nonetheless, the supermodel has a habit of making misleading public statements about her studies. For instance, earlier this year she Tweeted a photo of herself holding a certificate of completion from the O.P.M. and wrote, "Smiling ear2ear on the Harvard Business School campus w/ my diploma!"
"On stage at my Harvard Business School graduation!" the supermodel Tweeted next to another picture, for good measure. "So excited 2 finally graduate from Harvard Business School!" she added later. "Learned so much from every1 of you - my profs&classmates!" Banks has on dozens of occasions called herself a Harvard Business School "student" on Twitter and referred to herself as a "graduate" of the school.
Then there are all the examples of Banks finding ways to insinuate "Harvard Business School" into interviews. "My most difficult class at Harvard Business School would have to be finance," she told one overly credulous T.V. host. "Harvard Business School, the number one business school in the entire world — in order for my company to grow and be the best and reach these women and to serve them, I needed the best. So I went to the best," she said to another. On Jimmy Fallon, she made a big to-do about having to "move in" to the Harvard dorms for the "term."
"You're also going to college now," said Jimmy Kimmel to Banks in a 2011 appearance. "Not just to college, you're going to Harvard."
"Business school," Banks corrected.
"Harvard Business School. Is it hard?"
"Jimmy, it is so. Damn. Hard," she replied.
When Kimmel asked Tyra what kind of degree she would be receiving, Banks' reply was a disingenuous, "I don't exactly know."
The honest thing to say at that point would have been "Actually, I won't be getting a degree, Jimmy. I'm enrolled in an executive education program, but it's not the same as being a Harvard Business School student and I won't be getting an M.B.A." But Banks has never said anything to that effect. To be fair, she has occasionally made a quick mention of the fact that she's taking classes in the "O.P.M." program — but always in a rushed kind of way, and the admission always comes couched between numerous references to "Harvard Business School." And really, who can expect viewers and readers to recognize some arcane acronym for one of Harvard's pricey, non-degree-granting programs? She ought to just tell the truth.
And the media has dutifully reported the falsehood. While tabloid and entertainment sources appear to be the most easily snowed, there are some reputable outlets who've made somewhat confusing references to Banks' course of study, too. A brief sampling:
Tyra Banks Talks About Attending Harvard Business School
Tyra Banks is enrolled at THE most fashionable business school — Harvard!
Harvard's Newest Student: Tyra Banks
How time flies. It seems like just yesterday (OK, eight months ago) that we were all marveling at Tyra Banks' decision to enroll herself in Harvard Business School. Now she's been through two terms already and is set to graduate in February. So not only was she juggling her America's Next Top Model duties and writing her debut young-adult novel, Modelland, but she's also wrapping this up in three semesters?
Tyra Banks Is Set To Graduate From Harvard Business School!
As the brains behind the America's Next Top Model franchise, we already knew Tyra Banks was more than just a pretty face.
Now the model and mogul has defied any remaining doubters by graduating from Harvard Business School.
On February 17, former model-cum-entrepreneur Tyra Banks became a graduate of Harvard Business School.
Clarification that Banks did not, in fact, attend "Harvard Business School" or "graduate" from same — if it came at all — came only after misleading headlines and reporting had done the damage. News outlets that refer correctly to Banks' studies ("Since she completed a Harvard University executive-education program in February..." as the New York Times recently put it) are regrettably few and far between.
Tyra Banks is an accomplished businesswoman. There is no reason to embellish her achievements. A Harvard Business School graduate she is not.