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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.

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 resume 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 resume,” she wrote.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

“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?

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Matt Schneider
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