To stressed-out parents and students, MIT admissions dean Marilee Jones was a rare voice of reason in the high-pressure world of college admissions. With colleges demanding kids who play sports, run student government and take the heaviest course load they can, Jones shouted back the opposite: daydream, stay healthy, and don't worry so much about building a resume just to impress an elite college.
Yet it turns out that Jones was susceptible to pressure herself. She falsely bolstered her credentials to get a job with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and over the course of her career claimed to have earned degrees from three schools. MIT officials say now they have no evidence she ever graduated from college at all.
The school announced Thursday that Jones had resigned after acknowledging she had misrepresented her education when she started working at the university 28 years ago, and declined to correct multiple incorrect claims since then.
A senior MIT official said that by claiming degrees she had never earned, Jones could no longer lead an admissions office that occasionally rescinds the acceptance letters sent to applicants who are untruthful about their own accomplishments.
"We have to uphold the integrity of the institution, because that's what we've been trying to sell and she's our chief spokesperson on that," MIT Chancellor Phil Clay said. It's "regrettable, ironic, sad, but that's where we are."
Jones had become one of the most public voices urging parents, students and especially colleges themselves to "lower the flame" surrounding college admissions. She made the cause her own after growing alarmed at the increase in stress-related health problems among young people and has become a much-in-demand speaker at admissions events.
Last year, she co-authored a book: "Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admissions and Beyond."
"We're raising a generation of kids trained to please adults," Jones told The Associated Press in an extensive interview last year. "Every day kids should have time when they're doing something where they're not being judged. That's the big difference with this generation. They're being judged and graded and analyzed and assessed at every turn. It's too much pressure for them."
On Thursday, MIT released a short statement from Jones in which she said she was "deeply sorry for this and for disappointing so many in the MIT community and beyond who supported me, believed in me, and who have given me extraordinary opportunities."
Clay said MIT was alerted to questions about Jones' credentials in a phone call, from someone he declined to identify, to another dean. An inquiry determined Jones had at various points claimed degrees from Union College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Albany Medical College, all in New York, but in fact had no degrees from any of those institutions. Clay said MIT was not aware of Jones having any undergraduate or graduate degree.
Jones was confronted on Monday, acknowledged the misrepresentations and accepted a request to resign, Clay said.
Jason Gorss, a spokesman for RPI, said Jones attended that university as a part-time, non-matriculating student in 1974 and 1975 but did not receive a degree. Officials at the other two schools said she had never been a student there.
A number of people in the college admissions field said they were saddened by the news and hoped Jones would find another venue for continuing her cause.
"She's been such a high impact and good influence on all of these admissions conversations," said Bruce Poch, dean of admissions at Pomona College in California, who knows Jones well. "This hurts."
Clay said MIT now checks credentials of new hires but did not generally do so when Jones first applied to work there. The first job she applied for, as an administrative assistant, did not require a college degree, but Clay said Jones claimed to have one. He said she did not correct that claim during her appointment process as dean in 1997.
Jones was asked to resign because her actions go "against her being a model for integrity that an admissions director sets," Clay said. "It represents a very, very long deception, when there were opportunities to correct the record. This is not a mistake or an accident or an oversight."
Lloyd Thacker, the founder of the Education Conservancy, a group also trying to tone down the admissions process, said Jones "has had a very positive impact on the lives of many students and families and has brought inspiration to the professions." Her resignation "in no way discredits the value of her work," he said.