MIT made the right decision in asking Marilee Jones to resign. If our hiring process is not reliable, how can we defend our integrity in other areas, like research? Jones’ continued presence at MIT would set a dangerous precedent. What if we learned that one of our top professors falsified research data early in his career to get a job? All of MIT should be held to the same standard for honesty in order to maintain credibility.
Although Jones’ effectiveness in running the admissions office illustrates that the degrees in question were not necessary for even her high-level position of Dean, it does not mean that such qualifications are not important during hiring. It is very likely that Jones’ supposed degrees commanded respect, helping her be a more effective leader.
MIT failed to exercise due diligence early in the hiring process. Jones was hired as a secretary and was eventually promoted to the position of dean (nominally making her a member of the faculty). Her resume was not thoroughly examined when she first came to MIT, and it was never re-examined as she rose through MIT’s internal ranks because, according to Chancellor Clay, “it is not standard practice to confirm the credentials of individuals being promoted within MIT.”
Jones’ case demonstrates flaws in the hiring and promotion systems currently in place at MIT. It may be unreasonable to expect the Institute to thoroughly check the background of all new employees at all levels. But it is the Institute’s responsibility to find a practical solution so that this kind of situation does not arise again.
Despite her personal errors, Jones deserves credit for reshaping and bringing balance to the demographic of the MIT undergraduate community by increasing the number of women and minorities. She has revamped how we evaluate applicants, as the famous “Tell us about something you do for the pleasure of it,” prompt has come to characterize MIT admissions. Whether she has traded competency for diversity in the quality of the incoming class has still to be determined. Most importantly, her voice has become one that serves to calm nervous parents and applicants.
MIT will continue to need to analyze what kind of student will flourish and contribute, and shape its admissions procedures accordingly. The admissions office should ensure that Jones’ ideas continue to play a part in this discussion, even as Jones herself does not.