Fraud

It's very touching that her colleagues & the students she worked with are saddened by the sudden resignation of Marilee Jones, the dean of Admissions at MIT & I suppose it means I'm a crass bastard who fails to see the larger tragedy, but the first thing I thought of when I read this was Ms. Jones' TIAA-Cref retirement account. Most universities make a substantial contribution to the retirement accounts of their professional staff, so will MIT ask Jones to pay back 28 years' worth of its contributions? After all, they were made on the basis of a fraudulent contract. And what about the investment profits? Aren't profits earned through fraudulent contracts subject to some sort of seizure? I suspect this is not a criminal matter, but what is the civil law? I honestly don't know. On the broader philosophical level & speaking as someone who believes in redemption & forgiveness (I can't help it, I was raised Christian), I'm not feeling much sympathy for Jones. She didn't need the fake credentials to get her first job at MIT, for one thing. As she moved up the career ladder, however, those fake credentials did, no doubt, become part of her "qualifications" for jobs that did require certain academic benchmarks. Yet she continued to use the faked degrees. In an academic community, for better or worse, such things matter. I don't think Ms. Jones should be ruined & I admit I can't decide who has been harmed; furthermore, I admit it is probably overly idealistic to believe in fairy tales like the fiction of the Academic Community, but this fraud leaves a very bitter taste on the tongue.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

5 thoughts on “Fraud”

  1. Fascinating, isn’t it, how degrees that confer general academic recognition have become a critical part of pedagogy? I mean, honestly Joe, how often do you whip out the material in your dissertation when you’re teaching undergraduate composition? It’s probably actually contrary to the breadth of knowledge and interpersonal skills required to be a good teacher to require them to make a “contribution to Knowledge” in some myopic niche of the field. Likewise, clearly Ms. Jones could do her job without the diplomas – the problem, quite simply, is that she lied.

  2. Yeah, we’re a diploma-driven society for sure. Since my terminal degree is an MFA (Iowa 1980), I don’t have a dissertation to whip out, though. I have always been a committed generalist. When I went to college [Warning: geezer nostalgia ahead] the degree represented recognition that you had undergone certain experiences & acquired a certain sort of knowledge. The degree was sort of an afterthought, honestly. Same for the MFA. For my students, now, they (& their families) start out with the degree in mind & make a series of decisions about how to obtain the credential. The effect is to turn each course into a task in an instrumentalist game. I try to resist that (See post above). At its worst, the crass instrumentalism leads to cheating & excusing cheating, though I suppose it can also act as a goad, like wanting to finish a level in a video game.

    As for Ms. Jones, she lied repeatedly & benefited during her whole career from the initial lie. She obviously didn’t need the degrees to do her job & it’s probably true that she would not have become a dean without at least a BA or BS, but she could probably have gotten that while doing her entry-level job at MIT all those years ago. And she would have been a better dean, I’m willing to aver, if she were a more educated dean.

  3. Sorry, Joe. I forgot (or failed to notice?) you didn’t go the PhD route. An MFA from Iowa was (and is?) a passport unlike most other MFAs (and especially the low-res kind). My thinking is that if I would want to return to academia at this point, the next “instruments” I would have to acquire would be high acclaim for a first (and maybe second) book and/or a PhD. Even just in the abstract pondering stage, the irony of such endeavors as being purely badges and not actual, practical pedagogical preparation is evident. Still, the promise of being able to delve deeper into poetics through teaching intrigues me.

    More to the main topic, I agree Ms. Jones fell nothing short of hypocritical in trying to shape a kinder gentler academia having never been through the process herself. Trying to position her in the argument against academic obsession with badges and instruments sidesteps the much larger issue of personal and professional integrity.

  4. Robert, I don’t know what to think of my own credentials any more. In 1981 I was accepted into the University of Washington’s PhD program, but they didn’t offer me any support. I would have begun the program, but the month before I was to register I got a job offer to teach Composition part-time at Western Washington University. I was deeply & profoundly broke at the time so I took the job. After a few terms at Western I took a (non-tenure track but full time) job at San Diego State. It was only after I had published two chapbooks & my first “real” book that Clarkson offered me a tenure-track job. I had known for a long time that I liked teaching, so I moved across the country. I have sometimes regretted that I didn’t get that PhD & the more systematic approach to literature it would have represented, but here I am a hoary old full professor with a quarter of a million dollars in my retirement account. For a boy raised in the lower-middle class suburbia built on the bulldozered orchards of mid-twentieth century Southern California, what a long strange trip it’s been!

  5. Well, Joe, “systematic approach to literature” or not, the main thing is you seem to be reading, writing and thinking about topics that you are so passionate about that you can’t just draw the line at papers and lectures (i.e. you blog). So, no matter how circuitous the route, good on you for where you are. Or perhaps it’s just a patch of grass that in this certain slant of light seems mighty green…

Comments are closed.