Life and Lies

From The New York Times: “Dean at M.I.T. Resigns, Ending a 28-Year Lie.” It’s the story of Marilee Jones, the university’s highly respected and successful admissions director, who over the decades falsely claimed to have received several college degrees. It turns out that she never graduated from college at all. Somehow M.I.T. only recently got around to looking into her resume, long after she had been elevated to senior administration.

I suppose the absolutist side of me feels like she ought to suffer the severest consequences for her dishonesty. There’s the ethical question, of course, the need to be straight with others about who you are and what you’ve done. There’s another issue, too: being honest with yourself about your life. On one level, the sort of biography you present in a resume is the most superficial kind there is: just dates, places, duties, and positions; your resume doesn’t touch on the stuff that’s really hard to face, like all your personal crises and how you’ve dealt with them, the traumas you’ve suffered or dealt out, the messy details of how you deal with people and problems every day. So being candid about those surface details — “I graduated with honors” or “I made it to community college, but liked beer better; I still hope to go back some day” — seems like it should be the easy part about representing yourself. Unless you lie about it. Then you’ve created a secret that you must sense will emerge some day to show the world what a fraud you are.

Ethical absolutism aside, I sympathize with Ms. Jones. Perhaps partly because I’m a fellow non-college graduate (my resume says where I went to school and notes “no degree taken” — though hope springs eternal). But more because it’s hard not to admire her when you read what she was able to do with her talents and ability — qualities that didn’t happen to come certified from an institution of higher education. At some juncture, or maybe many, she had to consider whether to come clean about her untruths. It must have been hard; I expect she sensed that advancement depended on having a degree, that she wouldn’t get a chance to show what she could do unless she had some credentials, whether they were truly relevant or not. She was probably right, and that’s a shame, because her work was brilliant. Not brilliant enough to offset her lies, though, or escape the trap she set for herself.

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7 Replies to “Life and Lies”

  1. I think she was just ahead of her time. Surely she received those degrees “in her gut”. That qualified her to initiate, implement, oversee and be a people person.

  2. She has NO degree! Contrast that with our Commander in Chief who has a degree from Yale and a MBA from Harvard. Or compare with Dr. Condoleeza Rice. Marilee has done a good job, a great job, at MIT. I suppose it is fair that she loses her job for fabricating a glowing CV, but to look at the product of some of our more qualified citizens makes me wonder if it is completely just.

  3. My point exactly, bro. Chances are she would have been hired into MIT’s entry-level job with no degree. But she probably would have had a tough time really advancing from there — because they’d want a degree. She did an outstanding job, and could have pointed to that, but the degree requirement would likely have trumped that. Meantime, you have his and her nibs with their academic papers; in Bush’s case, no one would have left him alone with a set of car keys, let alone the running of an office; in Rice’s case, and in the case of so much of the current regime’s brain trust, the main thing their advanced degrees seem to have secured is a sense that they, the anointed, know better than anyone else what’s good for all of us. I wish I bought into the religion thing more, because at this point it would be appropriate to say “God help us.”

  4. I’m guessing that in the rarefied academic heights of MIT, a demonstrated pedigree of academic attainment is more important than in other venues. It could be the wolves of intellectual honesty circle more quickly at elite universities. Hence the need for outing and resignation.
    I find it curious after all this time the issue has come up. Now that I’m hired, my employer doesn’t check into my academic credentials anymore.

  5. I see on Amazon one “reviewer” has already jumped on the opportunity to slam her. There, the book is currently ranked #711 (lucky number). And, it says she has a daughter. That’s who I feel bad for. Really bad.
    I imagine this came up because someone who went to one of her listed schools picked up her book, checked her out, and narced on her.
    She had to know in her heart that she’d be caught.

  6. No, there’s no easy answer to this dilemma, but I think she ultimately did the right thing by just resigning.
    I read that there’s a passage in her book where she encourages students never to lie about their accomplishments, or it’ll come back to haunt them. One wonders what passed through her mind when she wrote that.

  7. I’m with you, Dan. I think the wrong lesson will be learned here. M.I.T. will now verify every little detail to determine every applicant’s veracity which I suppose is a good thing. What they won’t review is their requirements for every position. What they have in Marilee Jones is a person who was not qualified for a position by their standards but was obviously capable of doing the job. I would like to hear someone from one of those ivory towers expound on why they should continue to be allowed to practice such discrimination.

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