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Apr 27, 2007 8:40 am

Friday Notes

Ben Hoyle,"Publisher makes lite work of the classics," TimesOnline, 14 April, reports on Orion Books' new line of classics, cut by 40% to make them more appealing to modern readers. I confess to having read, many times over, my brother's large collection of Classics Illustrated after World War II, but they peaked my interest in subsequently reading the real thing. The Orion short editions seem unlikely to have that effect.

Kazim Ali,"Culture of Fear: Poetry Professor Becomes Terror Suspect," Alternet, 24 April, describes his experience of recycling while being brown. Hat tip.

Anthony Grafton,"Clio and the Bloggers," Perspectives, May, is an introduction to the history blogosphere by the Vice President of the AHA's Professional Division. Grafton understands it well and it's wonderful to have his public recognition of so many of Cliopatria's friends. I've learned much from Professor Grafton's participation in discussions at several blogs. Among other things, he's an editor of the Journal of the History of Ideas, which has recently launched its own blog. We'll be adding it to Cliopatria's History Blogroll.

Tamar Lewin,"Dean of Admissions at M. I. T. Resigns," NYT, 26 April; and Zachary M. Seward,"MIT Admissions Dean Resigns; Admits Misleading School on Credentials," Harvard Crimson, 26 April, tell the sad story of M. I. T.'s respected Marilee Jones, who fabricated degrees during her 28 years at the school. I am deeply ambivalent about this kind of punishment. I've often written about Will Herberg here at Cliopatria. Like Jones, he'd fabricated all of his academic degrees. So, on that level, Will was an academic fraud. But he was much more than that. Will Herberg was the finest teacher I ever had -- more learned than any other. He was my rabbi. I can't imagine that Drew University would have been a better place without him. I can't imagine that Mt. Holyoke would be a better place without Joe Ellis. I suspect that M. I. T. won't be a better place now that Jones is no longer there.

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Alan Allport - 4/27/2007

"It seems to me that Mt. Holyoke was wiser than MIT. It didn't toss away two or three decades of experience. It suspended a professor for a year and forced him out of his administrative position."

Since Ms. Jones' three decades of experience were entirely administrative, it's not clear to me what relevance you think the Holyoke example has. What would you have her do instead? In fact, once her deception was revealed, any professional usefulness she may have once possessed immediately disappeared. How could an admissions director with her record continue to preach about probity to undergraduate applicants with a straight face? Students would treat her with contempt - and rightly so. MIT has taken the only possible action. Indeed, the one slight redeeming feature of this otherwise sordid tale is that Ms. Jones appears to have had the common sense to recognize the hopelessness of her position.

Ralph E. Luker - 4/27/2007

If the academic community needs to sharpen up its judgment of members, then you'll certainly want to move beyond mere credentials to removing those who have them but allowed their heads to die -- oh, ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. (I'm not discounting credentials. I've got more than my share and a lot of good they did me.) And, it seems to me that Mt. Holyoke was wiser than MIT. It didn't toss away two or three decades of experience. It suspended a professor for a year and forced him out of his administrative position.

Alan Allport - 4/27/2007

In this case, Ralph, I'm not very impressed by the "let him who is without sin ..." defense. Do you equate occasional lapses of judgment with a quarter-century of systematic, knowing fraud? Nor, after six years of obtaining a Ph.D. at considerable personal sacrifice, am I much inclined to nod approvingly at how "arbitrary and artificial" qualifications are. The question is simple: do we take breaches of trust seriously, or not? Ms. Jones is not some Hardyesque figure of tragedy; she is a woman who has enjoyed decades of power, prestige, and (I'm sure) ample compensation based on systematic deception, and she was in no hurry to give up any of these things. Do you think that she would have behaved with similar conciliatory heming and hawing if a student had misrepresented his credentials to MIT so gratuitously? The academic community badly needs to become more judgmental of its members, not less. This wishy-washy 'understanding' of what was a straightforward calculated lie helps no-one.

Ralph E. Luker - 4/27/2007

Indeed, I do have ambivalent feelings about Jones's dismissal. a) if you manage to live a life in which there is no lie in your past, you'll have done well; b) the credentialing process, itself, is fairly arbitrary and artificial. How many deadheads do you know who have doctorates? and c) institutions as strong as MIT ought to be self-secure enough to acknowledge that her 28 years of exemplary contributions in her field ought to justify ignoring her felt need to have "credentials". It's the felt need that we create by our job requirements that leads people to fabricate credentials. That's no excuse, but it's an explanation.

Alan Allport - 4/27/2007

She's an admissions officer who's been lying about her academic credentials since 1979 and you think her dismissal is something to feel ambivalent about?!?

Rita: Will they sack you?

Dr. Frank Bryant: Good God no. That would involve making a decision. Pissed is all right. To get the sack, it would have to be rape on a grand scale. And not just with students, either. That would only amount to a slight misdemeanour. No, for dismissal it would have to be nothing less than buggering the Bursar.