On Saturday, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal published a statement criticizing First Lady Jill Biden’s use of the title “Doctor” – and immediately drew a backlash against the article’s overt sexism and condescension.
The play “Is there a doctor in the White House? Not When You Need an MD, ”by Joseph Epstein, Senior Lecturer Emeritus in English at Northwestern University, is supposedly a foray into an ongoing debate about whether only doctors can claim the title or whether it can be used by graduate students or others PhDs like Biden, who has a PhD in educational leadership. (Many publications, including Vox, follow the Associated Press style book, where “Dr.” is reserved for doctors.)
Epstein’s comment went beyond this argument, however, to specifically belittle Biden’s credentials and area of expertise, beginning with addressing Biden – who is 69 years old – as a “child.” In the statement, he describes her decision to use the title of a doctor as something that “sounds and feels deceptive, not to mention a touch comic”. He also dismissed her doctoral thesis on enrolling community college students as “promising,” though he doesn’t make it clear whether he’s read it.
Many women in science find it difficult to be addressed with the same respect when faced with their male colleagues. And community colleges have long battled the stigma that the education they offer is inferior to their four-year-old counterparts.
Epstein’s comment played in these two tropes – and hit a justified nerve.
Biden’s students call her “Dr.” – but the opinion insists that she doesn’t deserve the title
According to Politico, Biden has two masters degrees and a PhD in educational leadership from the University of Delaware in 2007. She was a professor at Community College in Northern Virginia while her husband was vice president. Despite being on leave during the campaign, she has said she will continue teaching in the White House. According to Politico, her students call her “Dr. B. “
But Epstein suggests that Biden does not deserve to be mentioned in this way, writing: “A wise man once said no one should be ‘Dr. ‘unless he gave birth to a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and drop the doctor right away. “For anyone else who has earned the title, it’s“ pathetic ”to Epstein, and he claims it’s meaningless anyway.
Epstein goes on to argue that the value of a PhD has declined in recent years compared to the old days at Columbia University when “a secretary sat outside the room they were in [doctoral examinations] were administered, a jug of water and a glass on her desk. The water and glass were there for the candidates who passed out. ”
Epstein, who holds an honorary doctorate himself but did not earn one through college, also diverges from his criticism of Biden to complain about the proliferation of honorary degrees that recognize notable contributions to science, culture, or society, but no academic achievement imply. This is apparently a hobby of his: According to Epstein, he once sent a “complaint email” to the president of Northwestern University after Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers received honorary doctorates.
Danielle Keifert, assistant professor of education at the University of North Texas, put it in a nutshell on Twitter: “The suggestion that honorary degrees dilute the value of a PhD is ridiculous. This guy thinks because he got one that the rest of us didn’t deserve. “
The suggestion that honorary degrees dilute the value of a PhD is ludicrous. This guy thinks because he got one that the rest of us didn’t deserve.
– Danielle Keifert (@dtothetk) December 12, 2020
Epstein’s claims sparked strong reactions from many who found his tone offensive and poor logic. Critics, ranging from members of Biden’s team to their peers, repeatedly pointed out that the play appeared ill-informed, paternalistic, and misogynistic.
Biden’s future communications director, Elizabeth Alexander, called the piece “sexist and shameful” on Twitter, while Biden’s spokesperson Michael LaRosa wrote, “If you had any respect for women at all [the Wall Street Journal] I would remove this disgusting display of chauvinism from your paper and apologize to her. “
“DR. Biden absolutely needs her honor. She wasn’t given it, she deserved it,” tweeted Dr. Cathleen London. “Those of us with MD will not suffer if she uses it.”
Sarah Parcak, a PhD in archeology, responded with a tweet reflecting the general reaction of many female doctors on Twitter, saying, “Dear Joseph Epstein, author of this garbage sexist article, kiss my ass and fuck yourself.”
As Don Moynihan, professor of public order at Georgetown University points out on Twitter, there is a good reason why non-medical doctors, and women in particular, use the title “doctor”.
“This debate keeps happening on Twitter,” Moynihan tweeted as part of a lengthy thread. “Here’s the bottom line: PhD students are pre-MD, and the medical profession secured the title of physician to make themselves more credible.” [and] Female & POC scientists often [use “doctor”] to insist that people … don’t overlook their actual references. “
This debate keeps happening on Twitter. Here is the conclusion:
* PhDs are older than MDs, and the medical profession has secured the title of Physician to add credibility
* Scientists and POC scientists to insist that people don’t overlook their real qualifications
– Don Moynihan (@donmoyn) December 12, 2020
The comment also implied that studying community colleges is useless
Epstein described Biden’s dissertation, entitled “Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Student Needs”, as “promising” at the beginning of his opinion. This dismissive comment – and here, too, it is unclear whether Epstein actually read the dissertation or even bothered with it, apart from cutting the title – is a serious disadvantage for an important topic.
According to data from Fall 2018, community college students make up approximately one-third of the U.S. student population. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the retention rate for two-year institutions from 2017 to 2018 is around 62 percent. was almost 20 percent lower compared to four-year institutes.
There is some debate over what this means – as Grace Chen points out for the Community College review, some students move from community colleges to four-year institutions without first obtaining an associate’s degree. However, it’s hard to argue that increasing retention rates isn’t a valuable undertaking for students who might otherwise never graduate. And this debate underscores the fact that this is a topic that needs further research – which makes Biden’s addition in the field all the more evident.
And Biden has made community colleges a priority beyond her dissertation. She chose to teach at one, Northern Virginia Community College, because the Los Angeles Times reports that she earned less than she would have made at a government or private institution.
Perhaps none of this should come as a surprise: Epstein previously mourned the rise of “inclusive and anti-racist learning spaces” in an August published for the Wall Street Journal in which he raved about his “hard tradition” for bachelor days.
And in 2015, in an essay described by Jonathan Chait of New York magazine as “bizarre” and “expansive”, Epstein wrote that Hillary Clinton was, after Barack, “not only the first female president of the nation, but also our second positive action president” would be obama.
“How did we get to the point,” writes Epstein, “where we elect Presidents of the United States not on the basis of their internal characteristics but on the accidents of their birth: because they are black or female, or one day they will undoubtedly.” gay or disabled – not in other words, for themselves, but for the causes they seem to embody or represent, for their status as members of a victim group? “
In this day and age, Epstein’s last suggestion is just as bizarre as the rest of his Saturday: “What your Ed.D. concerns “, he writes,” Madame First Lady, although it may have been hard earned, please remember to stow it away in public, at least for the time being. Forget the little thrill, Dr. To be Jill, and settle for the greater thrill of living in the world’s best public housing for the next four years as First Lady Jill Biden. “
It’s not clear why Epstein believes this is an either-or proposition, but it isn’t. And regardless of what Epstein thinks on the matter, in about a month or so there will be a First Lady Dr. Jill Biden in the White House.
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