Friday, April 27, 2007

MIT dean resigns over fake credentials

Her name is Marilee Jones, and she's dean of admissions. She's been there for 28 years.

“I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to M.I.T. 28 years ago and did not have the courage to correct my résumé when I applied for my current job or at any time since,” Ms. Jones said in a statement posted on the institute’s Web site. “I am deeply sorry for this and for disappointing so many in the M.I.T. community and beyond who supported me, believed in me, and who have given me extraordinary opportunities.”

Ms. Jones, 55, originally from Albany, had on various occasions represented herself as having degrees from three upstate New York institutions: Albany Medical College, Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In fact, she had no degrees from any of those places, or anywhere else, M.I.T. officials said.

A spokesman for Rensselaer said Ms. Jones had not graduated there, though she did attend as a part-time nonmatriculated student during the 1974-75 school year. The other colleges said they had no record of her.

Okay, faking credentials is wrong. But is a mistake made as a young woman 28 years ago -- and not corrected since -- worth a resignation? A major concern in such cases is that the person is unqualified for the job, but that is clearly not the case here: Jones had been doing the job for years, and earned rave reviews for her work. She has even become a celebrity for her book and speeches on the admissions process.

It's also unclear if she was ever required to update those fake credentials, considering she has spent her entire career in the admissions office, rising steadily through the ranks. In such cases, hiring decisions are rarely based on a resume; it's based on personal knowledge of the applicant.

MIT says the issue is integrity, and I understand that. But it's a tragedy that a well-liked, highly competent employee should lose everything because of a youthful transgression that, once made, became too costly to own up to. It's a weird situation, where Jones' actions were plainly wrong, but nevertheless everyone would be better off if this had never come to light.

Maybe MIT is right, and they had to fire her. But while it might be fair, it doesn't feel like justice. Maybe there was room to find forgiveness for her based on her entire career, instead of reducing that career to the lie that began it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

How would it be possible for her only to misrepresent her credentials once and then never update them, and only passively allow the original representation to stand? Jones regularly spoke at conferences, wrote books and articles, all of which would presumably require bio's. She even had her own blog on the MIT Admissions site, which introduces her as a "scientist by training" (in the same sense that as a history major in college, I'm an "historian by training"). She also applied for the position as Dean and competed against 65 top candidates nationwide. Are you telling me she didn't review her own resume during that process, but instead just let her administrative assistant dig an old copy out of a file cabinet and submit it for her without her looking it over? Not very likely.

5/02/2007 7:42 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Fair points all, although in the case of applying to be dean the search committee apparently didn't require much of her in the way of documentation, because she was a known quantity.

I think MIT had to fire her. But it still strikes me as more tragedy than justice.

5/02/2007 8:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It strikes me as a tragedy too. She was clearly a good person in many ways. In advising students to not attach importance to which college they get into and to have confidence in themselves and their ability to do good regardless of this superficial status marker, she seems to have been having an inner dialogue, trying to atone for her own failing by helping others avoid her fatal flaw.

5/02/2007 10:47 PM  

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