Marilee Jones, the dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, became well known for urging stressed-out students competing for elite colleges to calm down and stop trying to be perfect. Yesterday she admitted that she had fabricated her own educational credentials, and resigned after nearly three decades at M.I.T. Officials of the institute said she did not have even an undergraduate degree.
“I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to M.I.T. 28 years ago and did not have the courage to correct my résumé when I applied for my current job or at any time since,” Ms. Jones said in a statement posted on the institute’s Web site. “I am deeply sorry for this and for disappointing so many in the M.I.T. community and beyond who supported me, believed in me, and who have given me extraordinary opportunities.”
Ms. Jones said that she would not make any other public comment “at this personally difficult time” and that she hoped her privacy would be respected.
Ms. Jones, 55, originally from Albany, had on various occasions represented herself as having degrees from three upstate New York institutions: Albany Medical College, Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In fact, she had no degrees from any of those places, or anywhere else, M.I.T. officials said.
A spokesman for Rensselaer said Ms. Jones had not graduated there, though she did attend as a part-time nonmatriculated student during the 1974-75 school year. The other colleges said they had no record of her.
Phillip L. Clay, M.I.T.’s chancellor, said in an interview that a college degree was probably not required for Ms. Jones’s entry-level job in the admissions office when she arrived in 1979. And by the time she was appointed admissions dean in 1997, Professor Clay said, she had already been in the admissions office for many years, and apparently little effort was made to check what she had earlier presented as her credentials.
“In the future,” he said, “we will take a big lesson from this experience.”
Since last fall, Ms. Jones had been making speeches around the country to promote her book, “Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admissions and Beyond,” written with a pediatrician, Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg. The book had added to her reputation as a kind of guru of the movement to tame the college admissions frenzy.
“Less Stress, More Success” addresses not only the pressure to be perfect but also a need to live with integrity.
“Holding integrity is sometimes very hard to do because the temptation may be to cheat or cut corners,” it says. “But just remember that ‘what goes around comes around,’ meaning that life has a funny way of giving back what you put out.”
Professor Clay said the dean for undergraduate education, Daniel Hastings, received information 10 days ago questioning Ms. Jones’s academic background. M.I.T. officials would not say who had provided the information.
“There are some mistakes people can make for which ‘I’m sorry’ can be accepted, but this is one of those matters where the lack of integrity is sufficient all by itself,” Professor Clay said. “This is a very sad situation for her and for the institution. We have obviously placed a lot of trust in her.”
On the campus, where Ms. Jones was widely admired, almost revered, for her humor, outspokenness and common sense, students and faculty members alike seemed both saddened and shocked.
“It’s like a Thomas Hardy tragedy, because she did so much good, but something she did long ago came back and trumped it,” said one friend, Leslie C. Perelman, director of Writing Across the Curriculum at M.I.T.
Mike Hurley, a freshman chemistry student, said, “It was surprising,” adding, “Everyone who was admitted here probably knows her, at least her name.”
Mr. Hurley said that the admissions office had been unusually accessible, with Ms. Jones’s “bright” personality and blogs for incoming students.
“Whenever someone’s integrity is questioned,” he said, “it sets a bad example, but I feel like the students can get past that and look at what she’s done for us as a whole.”
Rachel Ellman, who studies aerospace engineering, said, “I feel like she’s irreplaceable.”
Ms. Jones had received the institute’s highest honor for administrators, the M.I.T. Excellence Award for Leading Change, and many college admissions officers and high school college counselors said yesterday that whatever her personal shortcomings, her efforts deserved respect.
“She’s been working and presenting a lot of important ideas about our business,” said Rod Skinner, director of college counseling at Milton Academy, the Massachusetts prep school. “What I’m hoping is that the quality of the research and the book will hold up.”
Ms. Jones was hired by the admissions office in 1979 to recruit young women, who at the time made up only 17 percent of the institute’s undergraduates, compared with nearly half today.
Since she entered the field, admissions to M.I.T. and other elite institutions have become increasingly competitive, and she made her mark with her efforts to turn down the flame of competition.
Among other things, she told students that they did not need perfect SAT scores to get into M.I.T. She also redesigned the institute’s application form, leaving less space for students to list their extracurricular activities, so as not to imply that every student needed 10 activities to fill the 10 lines that used to be there.
Competition remains fierce, though. For the coming fall, M.I.T. accepted 12 percent of 12,443 applicants.
Those who attended this month’s events for admitted students said Ms. Jones had been in good spirits, especially at a Saturday night finale. There, Ms. Jones, who in younger days was a torch singer at upstate New York clubs, took part in a “battle of the bands,” singing, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
Christy McKerney contributed reporting from Cambridge, Mass., and Sara Rimer from Boston.
Correction: April 30, 2007
A front page article Friday on the resignation of Marilee Jones, M.I.T.’s dean of admissions, misidentified Leslie Perelman, a faculty member who commented on her resignation. He is the director of Writing Across the Curriculum at M.I.T., not the director of the M.I.T. program in writing and humanistic studies.