Marilee Jones Leaves Behind Complicated Legacy

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Former Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones resigned in April 2007 after it was discovered that she had misrepresented her educational information on her résumé.
Wendy Gu—Tech File Photo

Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones resigned abruptly in April 2007 after admitting to lying on her résumé, shocking the MIT community and putting herself and MIT in the national spotlight.

When MIT administrators discovered that Jones had, at various times, falsely claimed degrees from three universities, she was asked to resign publicly to preserve the integrity of the Institute. Jones issued a brief statement through the MIT News Office apologizing to the community and saying that she “did not have the courage to correct my résumé.” Since then, Jones has been unresponsive to attempts to reach her, and MIT administrators have been relatively terse on what Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 called in April a “very sad case of personal tragedy.” These circumstances have complicated the question of what will be Marilee Jones’ lasting impression on the Institute.

Jones had worked in the Admissions Office since 1979 and became dean of admissions on Jan. 1, 1998. During her 28 years at MIT, admission to the Institute became increasingly more competitive and the incoming classes became more diverse. As the associate director of admissions, Jones was tasked with increasing the percentage of female students, which grew from 28 percent in 1985 to 42 percent in 1996.

Michael C. Behnke, director of admissions during that time, said in an e-mail that although Jones was his point person on female recruitment, the increase was the result of a team effort by the Admissions Office and was supported by MIT administrators, including then-President Paul E. Gray ’54. “Marilee has obviously brought some discredit on herself, and I would hate to see any of that reflected on the increase in female enrollment that happened while she was there,” Behnke said.

When Behnke left MIT to take a position at the University of Chicago, Jones was named interim director of admissions and a national search began to find Behnke’s replacement. “By conducting a serious national search, we wanted to ensure that any internal candidates would be measured against the highest standards,” Professor Rosalind H. Williams, dean of students and undergraduate education from 1995 to 2000, said in an e-mail.

The search committee, which included then-Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 and other MIT administrators, eventually chose Jones for the job based on her familiarity with MIT and the admissions process and her commitment to diversity and equity, Williams said. After Jones was selected, the chair of the search committee, then-Associate Dean of Engineering John B. Vander Sande told The Tech, “I feel confident that I can speak for the committee in saying that in Marilee Jones we have gained for MIT the best dean of admissions in the country.”

Jones was known nationally for her efforts to reduce the stress associated with the college admissions process. In her public statements and writings, including in her book Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admissions and Beyond and a 2003 editorial for USA Today, Jones criticized the amount of pressure placed on students applying to college and encouraged high school students to participate in a few activities that they were passionate about rather than spreading themselves thin to make their applications appear more impressive. That attitude was reflected in MIT’s admissions decisions year after year, where “passion” was a common factor among admitted students.

“We look for people with passion — self-initiated, self-motivating individuals who get stoked up about something,” Jones told The Tech in 2001. She often became emotional when discussing her work, especially when referring to the many well-qualified students who could not be admitted to MIT.

Outspoken but also approachable, Jones was well-liked by most students until her resignation, though her strong opinions were sometimes polarizing. Jones drew a particularly strong amount of student criticism for a 2001 essay in the faculty newsletter in which she refers to students born after 1979 as “millennials,” a generation that requires praise, instant gratification, and a strong amount of guidance. “[Students] need to be involved in decision making, but they need for us to make the final decisions,” she wrote.

Many students resented the characterizations Jones made and took particular offense to her claim that in loco parentis is necessary for students to thrive at MIT.

In recent years Jones has been a strong presence at Campus Preview Weekend, where she has given well-received speeches welcoming admitted students to the Institute and assuring them that they were not admitted by mistake.

At Jones’ last CPW, held less than two weeks before her resignation was announced, she shared the stage with the admissions bloggers, whose online posts have become a popular way for prospective students to connect with MIT.

Jones was also well-respected among administrators, faculty, and her colleagues in the Admissions Office. She received a 2001 MIT Excellence Award for Leading Change, given for her “visionary” approach to college admissions.

“She had strong and warm relations with many faculty members and a keen sense of MIT culture,” Williams said. “She looked at individual applicants as individuals, valuing strength of character and accomplishment even if on the quirky side.”