The recent op-ed by Joseph Epstein deriding Jill Biden’s credentials and right to use the title “Doctor” rekindled the debate surrounding the use of such titles for doctorates and medical doctors alike. His article is “ostensibly a foray into an ongoing debate over whether only medical doctors can claim the title.” This is certainly an interesting question, especially from a journalistic perspective, but upon further read, it becomes clear that this piece is not a logical argument, but is in fact a personal tirade against the way that academia has modernized and progressed through the years.
Putting aside the misogynistic and elitist views for a moment, Epstein complains that “getting a doctorate was then an arduous proceeding” where a secretary would sit outside the room with a pitcher of water “for candidates who fainted.” He goes on to say that dissertation defenses are now akin to friendly, social gatherings. The fact that academia in days past was lauded for putting students through abuse, mistreatment, and elitism for the purpose of “building character” shows just how much it has changed.
This antiquated view on the education system is partly to blame for the continued challenges that women and people of color face in academia. For them, “an academic title can be a tool to remind others of their expertise in a world that often undermines it.”
Weirdly, rather than creating a sound argument predicated on logic and reason, Epstein simply regresses into attacking Biden’s credentials. Instead of engaging in debate on the merits of using academic titles, perhaps arguing that it might seem arrogant, he dismisses her degree and dissertation.
On the first day of class, Debbie Gale Mitchell, a chemistry professor at the University of Denver, introduced herself to her students, telling them about her Ph.D. and her research. She told her students they could call her either “Dr. Mitchell” or “Debbie.” A male colleague had told her that he went by his first name and that students were friendlier as a result, so Mitchell decided to try it. Many students chose to call her “Debbie.”
Then one day a student asked if she thought she’d ever get a Ph.D.
“I discovered that for me, the use of my title is VITAL to remind students that I am qualified to be their professor,” Mitchell wrote on Twitter.Allie Weill
“Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.” by Joseph Epstein, December 11, 2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/is-there-a-doctor-in-the-white-house-not-if-you-need-an-m-d-11607727380
“A Wall Street Journal op-ed about Jill Biden pairs virulent sexism with academic elitism,” by Cameron Peters, December 12, 2020. https://www.vox.com/2020/12/12/22171419/wall-street-journal-op-ed-epstein-jill-biden-sexism-elitism
“Professor FLOTUS: How Jill Biden would redefine what it means to be first lady,” by Kate Andersen Brower, November 7, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/04/opinions/jill-biden-first-ladies-history-brower/index.html
“Whom does The New York Times consider a doctor?” by R.J. Lehmann, October 27, 2015. https://www.rstreet.org/2015/10/27/whom-does-the-new-york-times-consider-a-doctor/
“Is There a Doctor in the House?” by Mariana Grohowski, March 26, 2018. https://www.mtu.edu/unscripted/stories/2018/march/is-there-a-doctor-in-the-house.html
“Should All Ph.D.’s Be Called ‘Doctor’? Female Academics Say Yes,” by Allie Weill, https://www.kqed.org/science/1926489/should-all-ph-d-s-be-called-doctor-female-academics-say-yes
“Today’s College Classroom Is a Therapy Session,” by Joseph Epstein, August 28, 2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/todays-college-classroom-is-a-therapy-session-11598654387