M.I.T. Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones was fired after revelations that she lied about having a college degree 28 years ago when she first applied for an entry level job that didn’t require a college degree. Everyone at M.I.T. seems to think she was doing a fantastic job and will be sorely missed.
If that’s the case, why fire her?
Misrepresenting credentials is dishonest and obviously a serious offense. But people do a lot of stupid things when they’re younger and trying to make their way in the world. One could say she should have come clean before, but she probably knew that if she did, M.I.T. would demonstrate the same degree of forgiveness they’re demonstrating now–namely, none.
This shows how rigid the credentialing mentality has become in higher education, trumping three decades of undisputed good work. It wasn’t always that way. When Ludwig Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge in 1929, they simply accepted his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus as a doctoral thesis. The knew that forcing him to go through a formal course of study to earn a credential would be absurd. They were acting in their role as certifiers of learning, which is (see yesterday’s post) not necessarily the same thing as being a provider of learning.
At the modern university, that distinction doesn’t exist–you have to be certified by the institution that taught you. Indeed, since degrees aren’t based on any objective, verifiable evidence of learning, that’s all they’re certifying–that you’ve been taught. So I wonder if in addition to deterring future resume-fudgers, M.I.T. wasn’t exactly comfortable with the idea of employing someone who is living proof that you don’t need a university degree to be really good at a complex, challenging, difficult job–particularly one at a university.