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MIT Dean Falls from Glory

Marilee Jones, the admissions dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was forced to resign this week for having misrepresented her academic credentials on her resume.

According to a Wall Street Journal article:

... as the university learned last week, Ms. Jones had embellished her own credentials. She attended college for one year, as a part-time student at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1974, but never received the bachelor's or master's degrees that she claimed from RPI. Nor did she receive a degree she claimed from Albany Medical College, the university found. Registrars at RPI and Albany confirmed that Ms. Jones didn't receive degrees there. ...

In a statement released by the university, Ms. Jones said she first fudged her résumé in 1979 when she was hired in a junior position in the MIT admissions office. When she was promoted to the deanship in 1997, she "did not have the courage to correct my résumé," she wrote.

"This is a very sad situation, both for the institute and for Marilee," MIT Chancellor Phillip Clay said in an interview. "We take integrity very seriously, and it was on that basis that as soon as we determined that these facts were not true we dismissed her even though she has done a great job."

Marilee Jones has been well-known and highly regarded for her efforts to alleviate students' stress during the college application process.

A New York Times story says:

On the campus, where Ms. Jones was widely admired, almost revered, for her humor, outspokenness and common sense, students and faculty members alike seemed both saddened and shocked.

“It’s like a Thomas Hardy tragedy, because she did so much good, but something she did long ago came back and trumped it,” said one friend, Leslie C. Perelman, director of the M.I.T. program in writing and humanistic studies.

Mike Hurley, a freshman chemistry student, said, “It was surprising,” adding, “Everyone who was admitted here probably knows her, at least her name.”

Mr. Hurley said that the admissions office had been unusually accessible, with Ms. Jones’s “bright” personality and blogs for incoming students.

The Tragic Flaw

I agree with Perelman--what strikes me most about this story is that it's a tale of a dynamic, effective leader falling from grace. It's mildly reminiscent of President Clinton: he loved his job, and many say he did it well--but history will forever reveal the stain of his grand fib.

As I wondered years ago about the former president, I wonder now about Marilee Jones. Why did she lie in the first place? Wouldn't it have been better if she'd come clean at the outset, fessed up to not having the degrees, and moved on?

Now she must watch all her hard work unravel into a jumble of shame and heartache.

Humans have flaws, but when they're skilled, graceful leaders who inspire and help society prosper, watching them tumble is all the more tragic.

I'm also left to ponder how MIT, one of the most venerable, selective institutions of higher education, could let this slide. I think they should toe as firm a line with employees as they do with applicants and students.

What do you think--do you see in Marilee Jones a tragic flaw? Should MIT and all of higher education take a closer look at employee backgrounds?

-kc

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