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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Friday, April 27, 2007

what a shame

Admissions Dean Marilee Jones of MIT resigned from the University because she had lied almost thirty years ago in her application for a low-level office job at the University.

The New York Times reports that Dean Jones was a much valued and respected member of the MIT campus and that her philosophy of "Less Stress, More Success"...expressed in a book she co-authored with Kenneth Ginsberg...had made a broad impact among college applicants and their families around the nation.

MIT Chancellor Phillip Clay had other thoughts upon learning, through an anonymous source, that Dean Jones had falsified her educational history in 1977 and never subsequently corrected it as she moved up the ranks to become a Dean at MIT:

“There are some mistakes people can make for which ‘I’m sorry’ can be accepted, but this is one of those matters where the lack of integrity is sufficient all by itself,” Professor Clay said. “This is a very sad situation for her and for the institution. We have obviously placed a lot of trust in her.”

Of course, some might take another view.

An institution with such inflexibility and apparent inhuman rigidity leads this reader to ask some basic questions.

* How can it be that the value that Dean Jones brought to MIT over three decades was erased by one mistake she made thirty years ago? (A mistake, admittedly, that she compounded over time.)
* What lesson does it teach the MIT community that the response to this kind of transgression is black and white, and not, as it seems to this outsider, distinctly gray?
* Could there have been an "outside the box" solution to this situation that quietly satisfied all parties and protected MIT's institutional character? (Dean Jones completing a round of coursework at another school?)
* What does this affair say about MIT? The school, after all, bore some, albeit lesser, responsibility here, too.

The institution, clearly, decided it could not brook Dean Jones' deception, especially in so sensitive, and relevant, a position as that of admissions. It became a question of "integrity," and understandably so.

But doesn't this outcome also seem, in some way, illiberal? I think so.

Live a few decades and one learns that there is no person above reproach, and few of us without some inherent, underlying complexity that defies logic. Character, after all, is more about what we transcend than what we do easily and without effort. Morality is not measured within straight lines and narrow confines, but by taking a broader view that understands that none of us are or can be perfect. Imperfection is the start point for all of us; it's what we do with that raw material that matters.

Dean Jones, by all accounts, did a great deal. She was a credit to MIT the institution. That's gone now, in an instant.

Allowing a closely-held secret to sink an entire career seems to give a power to the "whistleblower" disproportionate to all wisdom and common good. It makes one ask, what other figures at our major educational insitutions have secrets they've withheld, have complexities lurking in their shadows?

What seems lost, in my view, in the whole affair, is that MIT missed an opportunity to teach its community a lesson...to explore the insight we gain when we have the courage to honestly assess the failures and the good in the whole person and not merely the greatest hits expressed in the polish and surface impression of a one-page bio.

Ironically, wasn't that Dean Jones point all along?

Perhaps it will be up to some other, more flexible institution to explore just that territory, if Ms. Jones is willing.

1 Comments:

  • I totally agree with your comments and I think you had some great suggestions on how MIT could have handled this. I wonder if MIT is one of those employers which posts jobs where they say they want a college degree but then say that "experience can substitute for some or all of the academic experience"? Probably not, or Dean Jones would have had her chance to correct the record.

    But after 30 years of delivering results, why crucify her for a decision she made as an entry-level applicant? Surely, as you point out, there are some other options -- I hope to see that some other college has jumped at the chance to get her as an employee.

    By Anonymous itsmylife, at 10:37 PM  

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