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The ‘Dr.’ Is in—the Next First Lady Earned It

Joseph Epstein’s article comes across as a put-down, an attempt to diminish the achievements of a woman who is to be respected and admired.
Dec. 13, 2020 2:04 pm ET
Dr. Jill Biden in November. Photo: Martha Asencio Rhine/Zuma Press

Joseph Epstein’s op-ed (“Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.,” Dec. 12) reeks of sour grapes. He tells readers about all he has accomplished without any type of advanced degree, including that he was an educator for 30 years. So was I, and I admire Dr. Jill Biden for having obtained her Ed.D. She has a right to be proud of her personal achievements and use “Dr.” in front of her name. She is also a role model who was able to take on family responsibilities as well as advanced academic responsibilities. In this day and age, Mr. Epstein’s article comes across as a put-down, an attempt to diminish the achievements of a woman who is to be respected and admired.

Renee Fishman

Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Most of Mr. Epstein’s complaints about higher education seem to lie with the silly practice of bestowing honorary doctorates, which is entirely beside the point. What Mr. Epstein does have to say about academics has far more to do with self-seriousness than the value of the research they are producing. If he takes issue with the quality of Dr. Biden’s dissertation, let him make that argument on the substance rather than belittling her field, dissertation topic and degree-granting institution.

There are many great researchers at universities other than Mr. Epstein’s own. There are many important research topics that don’t require knowledge of Latin and Greek. A doctoral thesis on increasing student retention in community colleges may strike Mr. Epstein as “unpromising,” but it is an important question for the millions of U.S. undergraduates enrolled in community colleges.

Samuel Higbee

Chicago

Mr. Epstein fails to realize that academic women are almost always dismissed and their titles ignored. Students routinely call their male instructors—with or without a doctorate—“Dr.” and their female ones “Mrs.” or even their first name. Female professors who speak out against this are classified as pretentious, difficult or vain. Students roll their eyes when corrected and even the best male colleagues don’t always correct students when they make these kinds of assumptions.

While titles are merely titles, the larger issue is the persistent notion that women’s work and accomplishments are secondary to their marital status. Female professors are routinely paid less for more work and continually have to prove themselves to be equal to their male colleagues.

Prof. Jennifer Walton-Hanley

Western Kentucky University

Bowling Green, Ky.

Someone call a doctor: Mr. Epstein has a chip on his shoulder. While I share some of his concerns about the degradation of standards in education, a brilliant gentleman like Mr. Epstein should consider earning that extra degree himself rather than stripping an important person of her credentials.

His article is also patronizing. Contest the honorific, fine. But is it respectful to replace “Dr. Jill” with “kiddo”?

Chandler Sims Chang, Ph.D

Los Angeles

We, the undersigned, wish to express significant concern that a national spotlight has been given to the outrageously sexist and uninformed opinions penned by Mr. Epstein. Women, including those with advanced degrees, already suffer behind systems that prioritize men, neglect their contributions and undervalue their accomplishments. In the piece, Mr. Epstein intimates that one such accomplished woman, Dr. Biden, in acquiring her Ed.D and thus being referred to as “Dr.,” has not only used a title that should be reserved for medical doctors, but that the degree has less value than Ph.Ds in other fields because of when it was awarded.

Mr. Epstein implies that Dr. Biden’s achievements were only possible because academia has become, in his opinion, too easy. Mr. Epstein, the recipient only of a B.A., attempts to disqualify a dedicated, talented woman from using the title she has earned.

Lending a platform to this kind of ignorance is damaging not only to women but to everyone. It is truly ironic that you would choose to publish a poorly written piece by an underqualified lecturer attacking a noted leader who is on the brink of helping to transform education in this country away from the entitlement and toxicity that Mr. Epstein seems to worship. Unfortunately, that is all too often the lived experience of educated women. One can only surmise that “the relaxation of standards in university education generally” must be responsible for the employment of Mr. Epstein in the first place.

Prof. Britney E. Schmidt

Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta

This letter carries 330 signatures.

Having read Mr. Epstein’s entertaining and compelling article, I must now add another regret to my long list: I never took a class from him as an undergraduate at Northwestern. I agree that we shouldn’t address as “Dr.” those whose only claim to fame is an advanced academic degree. Even my fellow lawyers understand this, and they are arguably the most self-important people of our age. “Juris Doctors” all, we are prohibited by convention—and in many places by state bars—from using the title “Dr.”

Scott Hoyne

Long Grove, Ill.

Mr. Epstein thinks Dr. Biden shouldn’t use the title she earned, but during his time as the editor of the American Scholar, he wrote under the pseudonym “Aristides,” a statesman the historian Herodotus called “the best and most honorable man in Athens.” Perhaps Mr. Epstein isn’t the best person to write against pretentiousness.

Steve Chivers

Los Angeles

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