Living a lie

Posted on April 30, 2007

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I can’t even lie about my age. I would dearly love to, as the numbers only seem to go up while the lines just keep deepening.

I can’t lie about how I feel either. I’m not one of those bare-faced, smooth-tongued, lightning-fast thinking types who can tell someone straight-faced that I loved his book, cooking, song, etc, without feeling like barfing my guts out immediately after. And looking like I need to barf.

No wonder I can’t play poker.

You can thus imagine my shock – and perverse fascination, hell, even a sneaking admiration – at news of what Marilee Jones has done. She was the dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 28 years. Except that she lied about her qualifications to get there.

She claimed to have degrees from Albany Medical College, Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In reality, Ms Jones did not even possess an undergraduate degree. Not from those places, or any other higher learning institutions.

This story amazes me on various levels. Firstly, that nobody at MIT bothered to check her credentials. In its defense, MIT said that Ms Jones started out at an entry-level position in MIT’s admission office, which did not strictly require a degree. So when she was made dean of admissions after 18 years, MIT didn’t bother to look over the resume she had submitted earlier.

I don’t know about you, but how did she not live a life of fear? If I were her, I’d jump every time the phone rang, every time the boss said she wanted to “talk to me about something”. I wouldn’t be able to sleep well at night. I’d be so afraid of being found out all the time. I’d be such a wreak I wouldn’t be able to work.

Surprise, but this isn’t the first time we’ve heard of people in prominent positions embellishing their qualifications. Resume padders who were caught include RadioShack’s CEO David Edmondson and eyecare company Bausch & Lomb’s CEO Ronald Zarrella. Mr Edmondson resigned, but Mr Zarrella kept his job, although he lost a bonus.

Ms Jones’ audacity went beyond her work at MIT. She had capitalized on her position to write a well-received book about college admissions. Based on the book’s success, Ms Jones had been in demand on the college admissions speech-making circuit. Ironically, one of the book’s theme is “living a life of integrity”.

However, this episode highlights the fact that credentials and higher degrees aren’t necessary proof that a person can perform. Ethical breach or not, Ms Jones was credited with having excelled at her job, such as redesigning the college application forms to emphasize on students’ personalities and interests rather than accomplishments.

It’s high time we looked at other criteria besides educational qualifications or where a college degree was issued. This might just slow the frenzy that’s college admissions season. I’m presenting the often argued case that at 17 or 18, lots of people haven’t found their stride or place in this world and late bloomers might just miss out in the wake of the hysteria of getting into the “right” college.

It might be too late for Ms Jones at MIT, but maybe some other institution should hire her to spot the fake resumes out there. Hey, if she had us all fooled for so long, she must have been tremendous at it right? Who better then, than her?

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Posted in: education, lies, life