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A telling admission

NO DOUBT, Marilee Jones did the wrong thing. Decades ago, she claimed to have earned three academic degrees when she applied for a job as an administrative assistant at MIT. She rose through the ranks and became well known as an admissions dean with a heart.

This week, however, she was exposed. Someone questioned her credentials. And an inquiry revealed that she held none of the degrees on her resume.

Jones has resigned, leaving some MIT students and colleagues in shock. Still, she deserves credit for her straightforward apology.

"I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to MIT 28 years ago," she said in a statement, "and did not have the courage to correct my resume when I applied for my current job or at any time since."

Admitting to that lack of courage means being brave enough to be oneself, even if one is short on credentials but long on potential.

This forthright admission stands in contrast to others who have denied, delayed, or justified.

Last year, David Edmondson, chief executive of RadioShack, said he planned to stay in his job even after it was revealed that he had not earned two college degrees listed on his resume. Days later he resigned.

Lower on the career chain, some people argue that applicants have to lie to get first jobs or to go back to work after months or years of being unemployed. They say it's a matter of financial survival. But a better solution would be an aggressive national public policy that creates many more programs for working adults to earn college degrees.

Although this is a sad final chapter for Jones's MIT career, she leaves a positive legacy. It almost seems she converted her uneasiness over her deceit into a useful public tool. She pressed other admissions professionals and students to step outside the hothouse of academic competitiveness, to see the person behind the paperwork. In 2004, this page praised her for changing MIT's undergraduate application by adding the request: "Tell us about something you do for the pleasure of it." It's a worthy attempt to talk about joy.

In a March 2006 blog on MIT's admissions website, Jones posted an entry addressing students who were waiting to see if they would be admitted to the school. She reminded them that they would leave a mark on the world no matter which colleges did or did not admit them.

"Hold faith that things always work out for you and that things always happen for a reason," she wrote.

Defending student blog entries that were criticized as being too brutally honest about campus life, she wrote, "I'm proud to represent a place where truth is the whole point, messy or not."

Now, Jones has had to face her own messy truth. She has done so in a commendable way.