Lying on a Résumé Hurts Everybody

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I was surprised but not stunned to read the headlines last week: “MIT dean resigns over misrepresented credentials.” Every few months, it seems, we’re treated to another gotcha of a high-powered person fabricating their résumés. To be frank, I was even a little relieved to see higher-education news that didn’t have to do with the horror at Virginia Tech.

As the op-eds and follow-ups continued throughout the weekend, I got to wonder about the woman behind the news. Marilee Jones seemed to elicit far more sympathy than your usual résumé liar (remember the guy from RadioShack? Or the one from Bausch & Lomb?). If anything, the media and public seemed to grieve for the self-inflicted fall of this once admired woman.

TIME admired her, too. Jones was a major source in the cover story “Who Needs Harvard?” from last August, about a wave of bright students choosing to forego top-tier schools for smaller ones better suited to them. Rebecca Myers, a editor, reminded me that Jones was even asked to take part in a Q&A on our web site.

Jones had much to commend her. According to her bio, still up on the MIT web site,

Marilee Jones is Dean of Admissions at MIT. A scientist by training, she joined the MIT Admissions Office in 1979 to lead the recruitment efforts for women. She has served on many national professional boards including the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC), the College Board and the Women in Engineering Programs Advisory Network. Marilee is the recipient of MIT’s highest award for administrators, the ‘MIT Excellence Award for Leading Change’, as well as the ‘Gordon Y. Billard Award’ and the Dean for Undergraduate Education Infinite Mile Award for Leadership.

But the real reason for her adulation is her public stand against the pressures of the college admissions race. Take a look at our Q&A; hers is a voice of reason, unflappability and kindness when it comes to applying for college. When a young woman named Colleen bemoans her failure to get into Rice, Jones replies,

The most important thing now is not to take this personally. (Easy for me to say, I know…) Remind yourself what an excellent student you are, that you are a hard worker who is involved in her life and who always makes a difference in the lives of others.

To a mother who wrings her hands over what type of high school her children should attend:

Colleges are all different and some may have a bias one way or the other. But my philosophy here is “one step at a time”, meaning I recommend that at this point you focus on picking the best high school for your kids, based on their needs and your family situation, and let the future take care of itself. When the time is right, your children will be admitted to the best colleges for them, regardless of where they went to high school.

Jones kept a sort of blog–it appears to includes just four entries since December 2005–on the site. Her most recent post delves into her anguish over her own daughter’s recent struggle to find and then set off for a college. She writes with emotion:

A few weeks ago, the night before she flew out to California for a pre-orientation wilderness trip, Nora had one more evening out with her hometown friends, kids she’s known her whole life. When she got home – 2 minutes before her curfew (yay!) – she popped in to give me a quick kiss goodnight. On her way out the door, Nora suddenly spun around, sat on the bed and whispered into the darkness, “I think I’ve made a terrible mistake, Mom. California is just too far away. I’m afraid I’ll never see my family or friends again, or Harry (our cat) or Wills and Skye (our dogs) and maybe I’ll never come back. What should I do?” And then she started to cry.

She clearly touched a nerve, as the dozen-plus comments below the post show. You get a sense of her warmth and compassion. But her contributions didn’t stop there. The Boston Globe reports that during her very first job in the admissions office at MIT, she set out to “increase the pool of female applicants.” Her book, Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admissions and Beyond, with coauthor Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg , an associate pediatrics professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, is ranked a very respectable 1,744 on Amazon’s list.

“Many of us did not go to top-tier colleges and have managed to lead happy, successful lives,” Jones wrote in one of her chapters. “Success, after all, comes in many forms over time.”

By lying on her résumé, Jones did more than torpedo her own career. She silenced an important and rare voice in the world of high-stakes education–her own.