Credentialism & Fraud

You may have already heard about this, but just in case, here's the lead paragraph from the story at Inside Higher Ed:

Marilee Jones, dean of admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a national leader in the admissions reform movement, resigned after the university confirmed that she had claimed academic degrees she never earned, MIT announced Thursday.

In full disclosure mode, I'll admit that my initial feeling was one of schadenfreude: another academic administrator revealed as a phony, ha! Another prestigious institution of higher learning too-easily deceived by same, hee! Cheap laughs—I take 'em where I can get 'em.

But—wait a minute. As the article reveals, ex-Dean Jones had been in her lofty position since 1997. She'd been hired at MIT (on the strength of her bogus resume) back in 1979. She wrote a book. She's been showered with awards, served on boards; in the universe of college admissions professionals, she was a star. She championed overhauling the admissions process to decrease—this is ironic, isn't it?—students madly padding their applications with AP courses, extracurricular activities, and the like.

As George Leef points out at Phi Beta Cons that's a pretty powerful argument that, Dean Jones apparently didn't need the advanced degrees that she was falsely claiming in order to do the jobs she was hired for; MIT's requirements were absurdly overinflated.

A provocative book I read a few years back made the case for (among other things) outlawing credentialism; making it illegal to engage in employment discrimination on the basis of formal academic degree. If I were to rewrite John Lennon's "Imagine", that would be in my version: imagine no credentials, a world where people were employed based on actual capabilities, skills, and talents, not for the scraps of academic paper they'd accumulated over the years.

Unfortunately, one of the major pillars of our educational system is credentialism. If you take that out, the whole shebang crashes down. It would probably be replaced with something leaner and meaner, and better serve people actually trying to better themselves. But when you talk about special interests: the education industry is one of the most special, and they have no interest in making things that interesting. So credentialism is not about to go away soon, unfortunately.

I don't (however) want to paint ex-Dean Jones as a martyr to the anti-credentialism movement. Obviously, qualification zero for just about any job—even an academic one—is honesty. Even if MIT had no particular gripe about the results, the people she fraudulently competed with to grab her positions certainly do. Kip Esquire makes that point in his usual direct manner.

Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:00 PM EDT