Advancing by Degrees

The news that Marilee Jones, Dean of Admission at MIT, has had to resign because she falsified her resume, has hit us in the college admission biz pretty hard. She is an exceptionally intelligent and humane person, and many of us (including me) have recommended her book Less Stress, More Success many times as a wonderful antidote to the college admission frenzy that surrounds us. Since she was also a big advocate of being honest in dealing with admission offices, this is really a blow.

It seems that when she first began to work in the admission office, one didn’t need a college degree, but it seems she invented one (or perhaps several) anyway. As she progressed up the ladder at MIT, no one thought to check (or recheck) her credentials, but her misrepresentations eventually caught up with her. Apparently someone phoned MIT with the news…What, one wonders was the motivation, and why now? She had become more visible as a result of the book; more light was shed on her background. And one wonders why she felt she needed to manufacture degrees, although it might seem obvious that someone in such a public position at a place like MIT would feel obligated to have a degree, being surrounded as she was with big-brained professors and wildly smart students on their way to their own degrees. One might forgive her for not wanting to look uneducated in the middle of that crowd, even though by now she had been doing a terrific job for MIT for nearly 30 years.

The impropriety of lying on your resume aside, I’m not sure why someone working in college admission would necessarily need a college degree. It takes a lot of people skills and business sense, a way with numbers, and good old fashioned intuition to make a good admission officer/dean. I know many people who really stumbled into the business from other businesses like consulting, accounting, and advertising. There’s no graduate degree in “college admission” generally available, and one can learn the basics as one moves from a fresh-out-of-college-working-for-my-alma-mater “green dean” to positions higher up in the hierarchy or simply by watching and learning carefully as one does the work. Even if Marilee hadn’t lied, she would have done the same good job she’s done. Of course, in academia a degree is like a pass to the secret club; it’s tough to convince professors that someone without a degree in something can run an admission office. But Marilee shows it can be done.

As college admission becomes more commercialized and professionalized, perhaps having a degree is simply the price of entry. But there’s no necessary reason for it, is there?

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About Will Dix

I am currently writing a book about college admission. I'm interested in the intersection of the college process and American culture. I attended Amherst College in the 1970s, taught high school English and theater at The Hill School in the '80s, returned to Amherst in the '90s as an admission dean, and began the '00s as a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I then joined Chicago Scholars as Program Director. Currently, I blog about college admission for Forbes.com. I also help community organizations serving low income students understand the college admission process so more students can consider gaining access to higher education. I have a few private college counseling clients that I take by referral only. The views expressed in this blog are mine alone.
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