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MIT Dean

06/26/07 12:00AM By Allen Gilbert
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(HOST) Student newspapers can provide interesting insights into how kids view certain issues. Commentator Allen Gilbert takes a look at one such story that appeared in his school's paper.

(GILBERT) The lead story in a recent issue of my high school's student newspaper was "Admissions Dean Fakes Credentials."

Funny, I thought, our school doesn't have an admissions dean. But then I saw the photo accompanying the story. It was of Marilee Jones, the MIT dean of admissions who was fired in April for lying about degrees that she didn't have. Jones had served in administrative positions at MIT for 28 years. As admissions dean, she had achieved national stature. She argued that the college admissions process puts kids through too much stress. She co-authored a book in 2006 - "Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admissions and Beyond." The book was a big hit. So when the story broke that she herself had cheated on her credentials, it caused quite a stir.

I thought that my school's paper was pretty perceptive in picking up on this story. Juniors and seniors understand the stress issues that Jones wrote about.

But what really impressed me about the story was the angle that the student writer explored after he had reported the basic facts.

The writer noted that Jones was considered very successful at her job. Everyone agreed on that. Yet she didn't have the degrees from the colleges that she said she did. On paper, she shouldn't have been qualified to be MIT admissions dean. But in reality, she was. What's the value of a degree, the writer asked, if you don't really need one to do your job?

This focus was different from that of the stories I'd read in the standard press. Those stories had focused on Jones' mendacity. By contrast, the student reporter's account focused on what Jones' deception demonstrated. Jones' education - or lack thereof - didn't really seem to matter - until she got caught. In classroom terms, she got "A's" for performance, but a big "F" when it was discovered that she wasn't who she said she was.

The student reporter asked: "Do the recent events pertaining to Jones's resume back up her feelings she wrote a whole book on? Her book was about how the college degree doesn't matter, that it doesn't matter if you have a degree from a top-ranked school. It's what you learn and take away from the school that's important."

I think that the student accurately grasped the irony in Jones's situation. Through her performance as dean, she DID prove the point that she made in her book -- that the degree DOESN'T matter. Yet the college that she worked for dodged that issue. It simply asserted that the degree DOES matter - and fired her.

MIT's chancellor said, "This is one of those matters where the lack of integrity is sufficient all by itself" to justify dismissal.

I suppose that's true, and I don't condone lying. But at least one student at my local high school drew the curtain back a little bit further on this story. Funny how kids can do that at times.

Allen Gilbert is a former journalist, teacher, and consultant currently serving as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont.

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