Friday, April 27, 2007

Should Credentials Matter?

MIT Admissions Dean Marilee Jones resigned yesterday after revelations that she lacked the academic degrees she claimed she had when she first applied for and obtained a junior position in the admissions office 28 years ago. (Read her statement here.) The news was apparently greeted with sadness by MIT staff and students, who regarded Ms. Jones as an outstanding Admissions Dean. That raises the question: So why did she have to go?

We can immediately dismiss the explanation that the lack of formal credentials rendered Jones incompetent to do her job. Her success in the job belies any such conclusion. Had Jones been hired as an administrative assistant with the knowledge that she lacked even a bachelor's degree, and had she been internally promoted until she was given responsibility for running the admissions office, she would still have her job. Sure, if you were interviewing candidates for the position of Admissions Dean at a selective college, you would probably use formal credentials as a filter, but if you found someone who actually was doing the job very successfully, you would sensibly hire or retain that person even if she lacked credentials.

The problem, of course, was Jones's dishonesty. As a professional academic, I take academic fraud very seriously. I also understand that MIT did not want to be in the position of telling its applicants to report their accomplishments honestly when its own Admissions Dean had cheated and gotten away with it. Foxes guarding chicken coops and all that.

And yet, there is something unfortunate about the fact that Jones was let go. (I assume she was "asked" to resign.) Here's an analogy: Suppose that a young reporter fabricates a news story, and on the strength of that story, is hired by a prestigious newspaper. Over the years, the reporter files numerous accurate stories, never repeating the original sin, and eventually becoming a legitimate prize-winning journalist. Should he lose his job because he initially obtained it under false pretenses? Certainly he should pay some price: A public apology; some form of restitution; etc. But why does the earlier bad act disqualify him from employment now? In the Jones case, it's a bit different because, in her words, she did not "correct" her resume when she applied for the Deanship. I take it this means she repeated the fraud. And perhaps that's enough to explain why she had to go. In the counter-factual world in which Jones had only made the initial misrepresentation, however, it's less clear that this ought to count as a separation offense.

In any event, it's worth noting the contrast between MIT and the executive branch of our federal government. At MIT, the discovery of a "youthful indiscretion" leads to immediate resignation of an otherwise highly successful administrator. Over in the Bush Administration, repeated calumnies and other misdeeds earn one the President's unflagging loyalty and the Medal of Freedom.

20 comments:

Dave said...

It is saddening to think that colleges and universities feel so threatened by individuals with any real ability that do not possess a college degree, that even the lowest paying, lowest responsibility jobs require a degree such as the institution regularly offers. While Jones should thoroughly repent of this lie, any other college would be wise to snap her up, offer to cover tuition so that she can legitimize her credentials and keep her talents in play. People can change and turn their lives around completely when it comes to things like this, even if it takes some strong medicine to make the change. Hopefully, being fired from MIT will provide just the right kind of cure. It's just too bad that MIT can't also take this opportunity to wonder why a degree could actually mean so little in the context of performing the duties of the dean of admissions. Derek Bok help us all.

KipEsquire said...

"But why does the earlier bad act disqualify him from employment now?"

It is not an "earlier" bad act -- it is an ongoing bad act.

Every single day that this Dean showed up for work, she continued -- perpetuated -- an ongoing act of misconduct.

This woman is hardly a Jean Valjean. I have no sympathy for her and applaud MIT for its actions.

Garth said...

I do have sympathy for her. It must have tortured her everyday that she would be discovered. She's lived a long time with this lie.

I think MIT made a mistake by firing her and, thus, depriving themselves of a truly talented individual.

She should be punished. I think she should have been required to address ethical issues and explore with an audience why she did what she did, why it's wrong and why she's genuinely sorry she did it.

I am not convinced MIT made the best choice here, but, at least I can see why they did.

Btw, at this point, I would hope that on the job training and demonstrated success would be all she needs to secure future employment.

I certainly wish Ms. Jones the best of luck moving on in her life.

Sobek said...

"In any event, it's worth noting the contrast between MIT and the executive branch of our federal government."

That sentence reminds me of the recent Mark Foley scandal. When the IMs became public knowledge, he immediately resigned and Republicans universally acknowledged his career in politics is over. Republicans also wondered aloud why Gerry Studds not only never resigned, but never apologized and was repeatedly re-elected. None of Bill Clinton's scandals (either the sex or the perjury) led to a resignation (indeed, "feminists" rallied en masse to the defense of a notorious repeat-offender). Harry Reid took as much money from Jack Abramoff clients as Bob Ney, but only one of the two resigned. Diane Feinstein resigned her position on one committee after it was revealed she funnels no-bid military contracts to her husband's companies, but she's still in the Senate and I don't think I ever even saw the story on CNN.

So Prof. Dorf, why limit your question to just the executive branch of the federal government?

Sobek said...

To be accurate, that should be "observation," not "question."

yonatan said...

Sobek:

I know little about other issues that you raise, but your Foley-Studds and Reid-Ney analogies are misplaced. Foley sexually harrassed minors after a long and prosperous career built, among other things, around a "moral" stance against pornography and other sexual offenses (among other things). Studds, by contrast, had consensual sexual relationship with a major (albeit a young one); both he and Dan Crane (a Republican accused at the same time a Studds of having sexual relationship with a female Congressional page) were censured, but neither resigned. As for Reid - he DID NOT receive any money from Abramoff; he received campaign money from money from Abramoff clients, and no causal connection was ever made between his votes and the contributions he received. Whether such a connection exists or not, receiving campaign donations is one thing, and receiving personal gifts from Abramoff (as did Ney) is another.

Garth said...

Reid got contributions from gaming tribes because he is the SENATOR FROM NEVADA!

these guys butter their rep's lavishly. i'll bet it killed abramoff that his clients were giving money to reid.

just another attempted republican smear.

that's why it never went anywhere despite incessant efforts by the msm to gin up something.

Sobek said...

"As for Reid - he DID NOT receive any money from Abramoff; he received campaign money from money from Abramoff clients"

That's precisely what I said. But Reid personally levelled accusations against Republicans who merely accepted Abramoff client money, then shut up once it was revealed he had done so, too.

"Foley sexually harrassed minors..."

Sent some IMs. Not quite the same thing as diddling a 17-year-old, I'd argue. If you consider 17 to be no longer a minor, then I suppose you're probably considering criminal statutes rather than the usual definition of majority.

"...after a long and prosperous career built, among other things, around a 'moral' stance against pornography and other sexual offenses..."

Wait a minute, are you suggesting that Foley's big sin was hypocrisy? Because in my view, it was sending filthy e-mails to a 16-year old. The hypocrisy is pretty low on the list of Foley's problems.

And Crane did not resign, but he didn't have to. The Republicans ended his career for him, when they refused to vote for him. Not so with Studds.

"I know little about other issues that you raise..."

Well let's take the easy one. Here are the facts: Diane Feinstein was chair and rqanking member of the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee for six years. During that time, she approved of awarding billions (with a "b") of dollars in contracts to Perini Corp. and URS Corp., two companies her husband owned. Feinstein never bothered to mention to anyone that her husband was making millions of dollars from these deals.

One specific example. Boston Scientific Corp. was awarded $17.8 million for medical equipment and supplies, and 85% of the contracts were non-competitive.

You didn't hear about any of this? Well, don't worry about it. Neither did anyone else, really. But considering that Feinstein is basically a war-profiteer, I have to say I'm a little surprised at the lack of general interest here.

Source (since I can't embed links): http://www.metroactive.com/metro/03.21.07/dianne-feinstein-resigns-0712.html

Garth said...

Hmm, So Foley's resignation from the House after it was revealed that he was a gay pedophile preying on the young men under his care somehow suggests a double standard because Bill Clinton did not resign after it was revealed he had an affair and lied about it.

Hmmm, you can find moral relativsm in the strangest of places.

egarber said...

Harry Reid took as much money from Jack Abramoff clients as Bob Ney, but only one of the two resigned.

Bob Ney pleaded guilty to corruption charges. His resignation occurred in the context of LEGAL wrongdoing. Big difference.

Sobek said...

Also re: Feinstein. The San Francisco Chronicle has, to the best of my Googling abilities, never even reported that Feinstein resigned, let alone why, let alone assigned anyone to even ask those questions.

Intellectual incuriosity.

Sobek said...

"So Foley's resignation from the House after it was revealed that he was a gay pedophile preying on the young men under his care somehow suggests a double standard because Bill Clinton did not resign after it was revealed he had an affair and lied about it."

That's a pretty terrible summary of my argument. So let me try again.

Foley's resignation after it was revealed he sent dirty IMs to a sixteen-year-old, was essentially inevitable because no Republican would ever vote for such a scumbag ever again. It was either resign or get voted out.

Studds, by contrast, admits he boinked a 17-year-old and not only defiantly turned his back on Congress' censure, but was repeatedly voted back into office by constituents who simply don't care that their congress-critters aren't too big on sex with minors. Why bother resigning, under those circumstances?

Benjam said...

foley wasn't a pedophile. he was a predator and a creep, but there is no evidence he was sexually involved with pre-pubescent children. (just saying)

anyhow, its friday. you kids should go out and play.

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