Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones resigned on Monday after it was discovered that she misrepresented her academic credentials. Jones, who had been employed at MIT for 28 years, apparently never received an undergraduate degree, despite allegedly claiming both a master’s and bachelor’s degrees on her résumé.
Jones’s resignation came after an investigation stemming from a tip by an anonymous caller, who questioned the validity of Jones’s degrees, said Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel E. Hastings. According to Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75, the phone call prompted an investigation by Hastings and a representative from the MIT Department of Human Resources.
A variety of sources list Jones with degrees from Union College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Albany Medical College. RPI Registrar Sharon Kunkel said that Jones attended RPI for one year and did not earn a degree. Nicole Pitaniello, a spokeswoman from Albany Medical College, said there was no record of Jones “once attending or receiving any degrees” from the school. It is unclear if Jones ever received a bachelor’s degree.
Jones was confronted with these facts in a meeting on Monday, April 20, where she confirmed that she misrepresented her credentials and was asked to resign, said Clay. Her resignation was made public yesterday in a brief statement to the community. In the statement, Hastings said that “the integrity of the Institute is our highest priority, and we cannot tolerate this kind of behavior.”
Jones also issued a statement yesterday, apologizing to the community and writing that she “did not have the courage to correct [her] résumé.”
Clay said an announcement was not made until Thursday so that MIT could prepare statements and appoint an interim director. Clay also stated that the decision to have Jones resign publicly, instead of quietly, was based on the importance of integrity and transparency in an academic institution.
“It was very important for us to say exactly what happened and why we did it,” said Clay. “Nationally, Marilee has been a spokeswoman for young people … she has been the person to yank letters of admission. We had no choice but to make the separation quickly,” said Clay.
In Jones’s absence, Stuart Schmill, currently the director of the Educational Council, has been appointed the interim director of admissions.
Jones has a long history at MIT, first coming to the Institute with her husband, Steven R. Bussolari PhD ’83, in 1978. At the time, Bussolari was serving as a Graduate Resident Tutor at Burton-Conner House and is now an Associate Division Head at the Lincoln Laboratory.
In 1979, Jones took a secretarial job in the Admissions Office that Clay described as “a very junior entry level position [that] did not require a bachelor’s degree.” Jones, however, listed multiple degrees on her résumé. Those degrees weren’t checked because Jones was not in a “mission critical” position, said Clay. In the coming years, Jones gained more responsibility in the Admissions Office and was at one point tasked with increasing the percentage of females at MIT.
On May 1, 1997, Jones was appointed the interim director of admissions and became Dean of Admissions on January 1, 1998. An article from the MIT News Office announcing Jones’s appointment characterized the search for Jones as “long, sometimes arduous and extremely thorough.” The article also noted that the Admissions Office had a 40 percent staff turnover rate.
“Ten years ago, there was no reason to check credentials,” said Chancellor Clay. “No one would be hired that way now.”
Dean Hastings said, however, that it is not standard practice to confirm the credentials of individuals being promoted within MIT.
As Dean of Admissions, Jones was very vocal in the college admissions realm, advocating for less emphasis on applicants with perfect scores, warning about parental over-involvement in the admissions process, and encouraging students to enjoy life. Jones spent the last few months promoting the book Less Stress, More Success, which describes how to reduce the stress of college admissions. It also mentions the importance of integrity and honesty in applications.
It is unclear if a future dean will be so publicly involved in admissions. Clay said that the role of a new director would be most clearly framed by a search committee that will be chosen in the coming weeks. “Part of their works is choosing what kind of person we need,” said Clay. Clay did not know of anyone specific that would be considered for the position. He did, however, say that it was unlikely Jones would be re-hired if she applied for the job, characterizing her resignation as “pretty permanent.” Hastings said that a committee would look for “somebody who brings in the best and the brightest to MIT.”
Associate Director of Admissions Matthew L. McGann ’00 and Communications Manager Ben Jones have made clear that they hope to work toward the goals of Jones. On the Admissions blog Web page, Jones and McGann wrote that they “will continue to celebrate and uphold all of the good that Marilee has brought to our office and to our field.”
Hastings, who selected Schmill as interim director, said that Schmill is very experienced with admissions and managed the office whenever Jones was out. Hasting considered Schmill to be “the natural choice” and had “the highest confidence” in him.
McGann declined to comment on the resignation of Jones, but did say that Schmill was “the right choice.”
The resignation of Jones comes at a particularly unfortunate time for MIT, as prospective freshmen are making their admissions decisions.
Chancellor Clay said that he hopes the controversy will not impact matriculation and said he was “confident” that Jones had not compromised the integrity of the admissions process. “Every application is read by several dozen people,” he said.
“What we have here is a very sad case of personal tragedy,” said Clay. “It’s ironic … Marilee is the one who has been very actively carrying these values.”
In Jones’s book, she writes that parents should “insist on integrity.” “But just remember that ‘what goes around comes around,’ … If you do not live honestly, you will draw suffering into your life because you will always be afraid of getting caught.”