The Wall Street Journal recently published an opinion piece titled, “Is there a doctor in the White House? Not if you need an M.D.” The commentary argued that the soon-to-be First Lady Jill Biden should stop referring to herself as “Dr. Jill” or “Dr. Biden.” The writer drew outcry and criticism from many.
While I believe most of the piece is an abhorrent opinion, Joseph Epstein does bring up a valid point about the awarding of honorary degrees. He said when celebrities and entertainers receive these degrees it “drains” the honor from honorary doctorates. One could argue that there are questionable choices for "honorary" doctorates. Perhaps they did make a significant impact... or maybe they just wrote a check with enough zeroes.
However, Biden did not receive her doctorate as an unearned honor. She holds bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Delaware, and master’s degrees from West Chester and Villanova universities.
Epstein argues that the Ed. D. (doctor of education) process is easier than it used to be. Earning a doctorate was “an arduous proceeding” during his “teaching days.”
“Dr. Jill, I note you acquired your Ed. D. as recently as 15 years ago at age 55, or long after the terror had departed,” Epstein wrote.
Epstein’s interpreted “terror” may be gone, but the difficulties of earning a doctorate are still very real. The struggles of earning a doctorate go much farther than just in a classroom or lecture hall. The process is far from easy for many, no matter what age one is.
Growing up in the home of two educators, I understood the importance of academic performance and the impact educators can make. I also understood the sacrifices that had to be made.
When my father decided to pursue his Ed. D., it was not a simple, linear process. It meant years of part-time night classes while maintaining his current position. It meant a lot of evaluations, dissertation drafts and long nights spent typing on the computer when time could have been spent with family.
For my mother, it meant countless hours with a red pen editing his drafts, maintaining the household and finding cheap activities to keep their young child entertained and quiet so her husband could work in peace. They both had to financially plan to afford the degree’s necessary classes and credits.
For me, it meant that my father sometimes could not go to the park with us, an empty seat at the dinner table or that he would not be home until after my bedtime due to night classes that were more than an hour away.
A doctorate is more than a piece of paper. It is more than a couple of letters followed by a period. It is a sacrifice made by an individual and his or her family. A sacrifice made to help one achieve a goal in hopes of a better life. The doctoral process is hard — no matter who you are.
Epstein is entitled to his opinion, albeit insulting to Biden, her family and all doctoral candidates and their families. In the first sentence he calls Biden “kiddo.”
I ask, would he call the same of a man?
Epstein wrote that he taught at Northwestern for 30 years without an advanced degree, only a bachelor’s. He also has an honorary doctorate: an excellent example of those he refers to who “drain” the honor from the degree.
Aside from Epstein, others also follow the rule of dropping “Dr.” as a title when related to academics. The Associated Press Style instructs writers to not use “Dr.” unless the person is a medical doctor. That is why in this piece I refer to Biden without her title. I argue that the AP should consider modifying this rule. The title is a small way to show respect for the years of hard work and sacrifices the individual made. And in a mostly digital world, we no longer have to worry about cutting out certain words or phrases to save a few column inches.
Biden and other doctoral-degree holders should never have to “stow” their degrees.