Monday, April 30, 2007

Sad: Marilee Jones and her unfortunate lies

The Boston Globe reported last week that Marilee Jones, MIT's Dean of Admissions - and a noted authority on calming kids down through the anxiety- and peril-fraught college application process - has been forced out of her job because her résumé was falsified. (Here's a link to the Globe article by Marcella Bombardieri and Tracy Jan.)

And this wasn't just a slight fudge, minor pad. Apparently Jones' c.v. claimed not one, not two, but three degrees that she doesn't hold.

I don't know Jones, but by all accounts she was a gifted admissions counselor whose mission was to ease the pain of the process - including the pain caused by rejection. Among other things, she maintained a blog urging students not to be so consumed by their résumés and instead focus on enjoying life.

Jones had been at MIT for nearly 30 years. Starting out as an administrative assistant - a position that, by the way, did not require a degree to begin with - Jones rose through the ranks. She was on the top of her game, one of the best.

It would have been a spectacular success story.

If only.

MIT may be experiencing a tiny bit of embarassment. But they'll get over it.

What about Marilee Jones?

I can't imagine that she'll ever recover from the self-inflicted pain and embarassment that she's caused herself, her family, and her colleagues.

How sad.

In tendering her resignation, Jones wrote "I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to MIT 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."

Apparently, someone blew the whistle on her, and I'm sure that eventually the details came out.

Had she made an enemy somewhere along the way? Had someone confronted her with the evidence, then felt compelled to turn her in once she refused to do the right thing?

How very sad.

I don't have lies on my résumé, but I can see how it could happen. Maybe not to the degree that Marilee Jones let it happen, but still...

Many years ago, having dropped out of PhD program I had no business in to begin with, I spent a few years working as a waitress and office temp. Along the way, I told a few people that I had gotten a Master's degree. It was more than a white lie, but less than a big fat lie. I had completed most of the requirements, written a thesis, taken all the political-science related qualifying exams, but I hadn't passed the language requirement. And to do so would have required me to both a) do more studying; b) fork over some money I didn't have.

But, even as a waitress and a temp - especially as a waitress and a temp - I wanted people to know I was smart.

Sure, I had gone to an obscure, second-tier college, but the MA from an Ivy League school made up for that. In my mind, telling people I had the degree was just short-hand for letting them know I woulda-coulda-shoulda- gone to a better college. My other strategy was dropping my SAT and GRE scores into the conversation. And yes, over 30 years later, I am blushing as I write these words.

On one of my temp jobs, there was a prospect of full time employment. When I handed in my résumé, I had to point out to my boss that I hadn't quite finished up that degree from Columbia that I'd been telling her about. She was okay with it and was, in fact, just as glad that I'd 'fessed up before she'd submitted my application. As it turned out, there was a hiring freeze on, so I didn't get an offer. (At least that's what I think happened - who knows.) I did stay on at that job for quite a while longer before leaving for a part-time job that would give me time to take enough make-up courses in economics and math courses to get me into business school. (At St. Podunk's, I'd been a sociology major, which qualified me for not much of anything.)

In any case, my lie thankfully never made it on to my résumé. What's there instead is "completed first year course work in a PhD program in political science", which is the complete and utter truth.

I no longer worry about whether people think I'm smart or not. I may have been an admissions mistake, I may have been the worst student in the history of the school, but getting in and out of the Sloan School of Management and MIT - to most people's minds - demonstrates that I've got a reasonably good brain.

Marilee, Marilee, Marilee.

What were you thinking when you said that you had degrees from RPI and Union College and Albany Medical College? Did you just want people to think you were smart? (And, by the way, what was MIT thinking someone with three degrees was doing applying for a job as an admin? Who knows.)

I look at the picture of you that's included in the story.

You look nice. You look kind. You look like you could be a one of my friends. You look like you would have been very reassuring to those tension-filled high school seniors applying to The Institute. You look honest.

But at one point in your life, you weren't.

And, as you say, you did not "have the courage" to make it right.

When it finally caught up with you, how did you feel? Had you been living like a fugitive from justice all those years, waiting for the tap on the shoulder? Were you relieved? Mad? Angered?

I'm not going to sit here and judge what Marilee Jones did or did not do.

All I'm going to say is how very, very sad.


almostgotit said...

I can recall reading a story or two in the past about a "brilliant surgeon" who turns out never to have gone to med school. Scary. This one is a bit different, though. Marilee Jones did a great job by all accounts. Nor, probably, did she need advanced degrees to do for what, basically, she seems to have learned on the job. HOWEVER, Universities are (take my word for it) the most chauvinistic institutions on the planet, especially when it comes to deifying their own product (academic degrees) The truth is, Marilee Jones would NEVER have been allowed to go as far as she need without those extra letters on her CV. So she played a dangerous game, which she is now paying for. But in my opinion, she's just the "canary in the coal mine" exposing a much LARGER sort of fraud...

Anonymous said...

I became friends with Marilee when I was an undergrad at MIT in the early 1980s. We've stayed loosely in touch every since. As far as my 20+ years of knowing her, she has always had unfailingly good intentions, cared deeply, and done her best to do an excellent job.

We haven't spoken since she lost her job, but without evidence of further misconduct, it seems a shame a 30-year-old lie can bring her down.

I can't help but wonder if she had been a successful CEO, an incumbent politician, etc., if the lie would have been quickly dismissed in favor of her track record.

Anonymous said...

I like your thoughtful reflection on the Jones case. But I would take issue with your characterizing Jones as only being dishonest "at one point" in her life a long time ago (which is clearly how she herself wants to spin it).

What about all the bio's for her on books, articles, conference schedules and on the MIT web site that have been published up until recently. What about her application for the dean job ten years ago? Is it really probable she just passively failed to correct the original misrepresentations and didn't have any hand in helping perpetuate all these later mispresentations? The MIT Admissions site describes her "as a scientist by training." Well I guess as a BA in English, I must then be a "literary critic by training." Hard not to see her as playing some active role over the years and thereby compounding the original sin.

Maureen Rogers said...

Thank you for your comments. The Marilee Jones case certainly shows how lying begats lying, doesn't it? As anonymous 2 points out, every time she let the lie stand by having her fake degrees on the public record, she was of course being dishonest. A cautionary tale, no?

Anonymous said...

What no one is talking about is the fact that under Marilee's rule the Admission's Department hired a private investigator to "check" randomly the applications that came in for truthfullness...all this in an article in WSJ
Now if that is not the pot calling the kettle black...AND not that it matters...but she was a practicing WICCA...witchcraft...She was bringing in the big bucks on her lecture circuit...and talking about stress free admissions all the while her admission's to MIT are the must cut throat and anti-Asian around...