April 29, 2007

Dean of Omissions

I've been following this story about the Dean of Admissions at M.I.T. who has just stepped down because she said she had 3 college degrees, but it turned out she had none.

She's been with the institute for 28 years, and by all accounts has been an outstanding employee as she made her way up the ranks to Dean. She has implemented processes to help stressed out young applicants, coached and mentored kids as they come to the notoriously difficult-to-get-into college, written a book on trying to get our kids de-stressed at this time of their lives, and basically been an all around fabulous employee.

So. What went wrong? Apparently, when she first came to M.I.T., her low level entry job didn't require any advanced schooling. But based on her capabilities and demonstrated expertise, she quickly climbed the ladder. In other words, she earned her stripes.

But now it's been discovered that she fabricated degrees she didn't have, and obviously felt she would need to keep the accension to loftier offices going. Oops.

Can we speak for a moment about what none of us want to admit, especially to our kids? A degree is overrated. Maybe not in terms of earning power, but absolutely in terms of traits it confers with no proof. Any idiot can get a degree, especially those in my age group who needed nothing more than crappy middling marks and a not-too-large cheque to get in.

Some of my favourite people don't have degrees; most of the smartest people I know don't. I am hypocritically pushing my boys in that general direction for one reason only: a degree is now the equivalent of a high school diploma, and has become the false idol of people and corporations who can't be bothered to actually learn something about the people they hire beyond a beribboned and wax-sealed piece of cardboard.

What did I learn at university? How to play euchre and hearts. That I liked gin. That taking night classes let me reasonably keep the car out late from my mother. That if a test was based on essay answers, you could BS your way through a lot. That you planned your schedule not by subject, but by location of subject to avoid a lot of snow in the winter, and to have Fridays off by second year.

University can't teach you to write. It's a wonderful place to exercise all the sweeping, righteous generalizations you will soon have pounded out of you when instead of getting a D for being wrong, you lose a job. For the right people, university is a fabulous place to find yourself and flourish.

But it's not for everyone, and it shouldn't be mandated that way. For some, it's overwhelming. For others, it's restrictive or boring. Genius is in discovery, not in reiteration.

I'm sorry Marilee Jones lied about her degrees. She sounds like a wonderful Dean who helped many, many kids. But I'd like everyone who is pointing fingers at her to haul out their own C.V.'s and take a closer look.

Are any of us what we say we are?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am interested in this story. I agree with all you said. I am on the other side of the educational fence, I don't have a university degree (college tech one mind you...) and don't care. There was a time I thought it mattered. But I knwo it doesn't. And I am unlike you in that I refuse to push my kdis in that general direction. Yes we have the RESP plans going...but we vowed while that $$ is to go to education, it isn't up to us to decide what kind of education...meaning any and all schooling to us is as valid as some stupid huge degree with lots of letters ending your name. Maybe this is the pressure this woman felt to concede and fit in? I don't blame her at all. I dont' agree with what she did (nor would I have the guts to try that one) BUT she did very well, proving alot. And I think the even bigger clods are those who never bothered to use THEIR degree-d aptitudes to check her out!

April 29, 2007 2:21 PM  

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