Lecturer Emeritus Canceled for Saying Jill Biden Should Not Be Called ‘Dr.’

I am a lawyer with a “Juris Doctor” degree from Harvard Law School. But calling myself “Doctor” would be misleading, because I don’t practice medicine. Indeed, it would be insufferably pompous. As law professor Eugene Volokh notes, lawyers don’t call themselves “doctor,” even though the word “doctor” is in their degree.

Jill Biden has an Ed.D degree that required even less study than becoming a lawyer, and no original research — indeed, it required less research than I conducted while at Harvard Law School.

Yet, Biden calls herself “Dr.” And so does the liberal media — the same liberal media that ridiculed conservatives with doctorates for calling themselves “Dr.” The conservative White House official Sebastian Gorka was mocked for calling himself “Dr.” by TV host Samantha Bee, and the Washington Post questioned Gorka’s doing so, because, it said,”mainstream news outlets generally refuse to attribute the ‘Dr.’ prefix to anyone who is not a medical doctor.” “My feeling is if you can’t heal the sick, we don’t call you doctor,” Bill Walsh, The Washington Post’s copy chief, told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. The Post cited the “stylebook” of the “American Copy Editors Society” saying the same thing.

Jill Biden is clearly not a medical doctor, so she shouldn’t be calling herself “doctor,” either. Yet, when Joseph Epstein wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal taking issue with Jill Biden being called “Doctor,” the response in the media was so hostile that Epstein’s lecturer emeritus status was cancelled by Northwestern University. Responding to outraged readers, it said, “we do not agree with Mr. Epstein’s opinion and believe the designation of doctor is well deserved by anyone who has earned a Ph.D., an Ed.D. or an M.D. Northwestern is firmly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and strongly disagrees with Mr. Epstein’s misogynistic views.”

Epstein’s article enraged many journalists. As MediaIte notes, “Wall Street Journal higher education reporter Melissa Korn ripped into her own publication’s opinion side on Saturday, following the WSJ running an op-ed critical of soon-to-be First Lady Dr. Jill Biden using “Dr.” ahead of her name. Korn didn’t hold back on her criticism, stating publicly that the op-ed was ‘disgusting.'” The Wall Street Journal article also triggered a storm of denunciation on Twitter, where Hillary Clinton wrote, “Her name is Dr. Jill Biden. Get used to it.”

The media’s demand that Biden be called “Doctor” even though she doesn’t have a medical degree isn’t just inconsistent with its own past practice of not calling people “Doctor” unless they practice medicine.

It’s also misleading, because many people wrongly think Biden is a medical doctor due to the media calling her “doctor.” As Fox News notes,

Jill Biden’s title was the subject of attention earlier this year when Whoopi Goldberg, a co-host of “The View,” mistakenly believed Jill Biden was a medical doctor instead of an educator, with Goldberg even expressing hope that Jill Biden would become surgeon general in a Biden administration. “I’m hoping Dr. Jill becomes the surgeon general,” Goldberg said on the air in March. “She’s a hell of a doctor. She’s an amazing doctor.”

Calling Biden “Dr.” makes even less sense than calling a lawyer like me “Dr.” That’s because Biden’s “Ed.D” degree required less study (3-4 years part-time study) than a law degree (which requires three full years of study), according to one of the nation’s leading law professors, Eugene Volokh. Biden’s studies also did not require the equivalent of a dissertation, which is typically required for a doctorate.

So Biden’s claim to be called “Dr.” is far weaker than that of people like Sebastian Gorka, who completed a dissertation to get their PhD. (Remember, the media mocked the conservative Gorka for calling himself “Doctor Gorka”).

As Professor Volokh explains,

at the University of Delaware, where Jill Biden got her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, the Ed.D. appears much more like a J.D. (or perhaps a M.S. or M.A.) than like a Ph.D. The Ph.D. program is a full-time 4-5 year program; the Ed.D. program is a part-time 3-4 year program (though I should note that a master’s degree is required for entry). Recall that a J.D. is generally 3 years full-time, though without at thesis; M.S.s and M.A.s tend to be 1½ to 2 years full-time, with a thesis. And while the hallmark of a Ph.D. is generally a dissertation that constitutes a substantial original work of scholarship—something that adds materially to the body of the discipline’s theoretical knowledge—the Delaware Ed.D. does not require that…[Biden’s thesis] isn’t like the substantial original work of scholarship required for a dissertation in a typical Ph.D. program, nor was it apparently intended to be the equivalent of such a dissertation.


This article was originally published by Liberty Unyielding on December 14, 2020 and is crossposted here with permission

Image: Phil Roeder, Public Domain

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader is a senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

10 thoughts on “Lecturer Emeritus Canceled for Saying Jill Biden Should Not Be Called ‘Dr.’

  1. I think there are different problems that have been commingled in this discussion. The first is whether Joseph Epstein should have been dismissed from Northwestern for voicing his opinion on whether Jill Biden should call herself “Doctor” because she has a Ph.D. The answer is very clearly “No,” regardless of what one thinks of his opinion. I can’t imagine a more trivial thing to talk about in the first place, and I don’t understand why anyone gives a damn, but even were this an important question, a university that would get rid of someone on such grounds deserves contempt.

    This is separate from the question of whether Mr. Epstein is right, and here I have to question him. I have a doctorate in Mathematics, which I received after managing to overcome the usual obstacles of taking courses, passing various exams, and submitting a doctoral dissertation. After receiving my degree, I would put my name on the board as “Dr. Wenger” when I taught classes, although I didn’t refer to myself that way outside the academy (nor do I refer to myself as Mr. Wenger, although when people refer to me that way, I don’t correct them either, because I am outside the hallowed halls of academe). I am, therefore, on the side of those who say that Jill Biden has every right to refer to herself as Dr. Biden, having received an earned doctorate in an academic field, although doing it outside the academy can be confusing and possibly look a bit self important to others.

    But that isn’t the only problem. Next is the question of what kind of doctorate: is it with or without a dissertation? I have always thought that a dissertation was a requirement for a doctorate, which is one reason why lawyers generally don’t use the term. I taught at a “community college” (which used to be called a two-year college, and before that a junior college) which rewarded people financially with doctorates, and lawyers did not qualify. There are good reasons why no one refers to lawyers as “doctor.”

    So, what to do? Well, in my opinion, who cares? I say, let a hundred flowers bloom, except that everyone should have contempt for Northwestern and its virtue-signaling dismissal of a worthy man who may be mistaken about something that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

    John Wenger
    Emeritus Professor, Mathematics
    Harold Washington College
    (One of the City Colleges of Chicago)

  2. Doc(or, doctor give me the news
    I’ve got a bad case of lovin’ you
    No pill’s gonna cure my ill
    I’ve got a bad case of lovin’ you

    JD (Juris Doctorate / Doctor of Jurisprudence) as a replacement for the LLB ( Bachelor of Laws degree):

    IIRC, this nonsense began with Federal civil service salary schedules — if you had a doctorate, you were on a higher salary bracket. It was the word that made the difference. Sooooooooo….. Law Schools merely changed the name of the degree.

    In fact, many schools would EXCHANGE your old, crumby LLB for a bright, shiny JD. That would get you a good bump up in salary from Uncle Samuel (if you were a Fed employee).

  3. I think many people are really looking at this backwards. The title “doctor” was historically reserved for those who did individual, creative work (something many in the medical fields do not do to earn their degrees – most of them have never published peer-reviewed research), typically resulting in a defended thesis/dissertation. People in the medical fields have typically been referred to as “physicians”, and still are in some countries. But for whatever reason, here in the US, at some point physicians started to use the term “doctor” to refer to themselves. The physicians in the US have not only corrupted the term here in the US, but have now exported the corruption overseas. 30+ years ago I lived in England for two years on a post-doctoral fellowship in engineering. I met various physicians in different medical fields, none of whom used the title “doctor”, including one who was a relative of mine. She was quick to point out that she was a physician, but not a doctor. But I see the US corruption of the term has now spread to the UK, and physicians there are now titled doctor.

    1. So Joe’s wife is not a physician, nor did she do original research resulting in a dissertation. She wrote a sort of extended policy paper for the EdD degree, which is in the vocational field of Education, not an academic field.

      I’d call a physician Dr. before her. But that’s just my opinion of the relative levels of accomplishment reflected by the degrees.

  4. lawyers don’t call themselves “doctor,” even though the word “doctor” is in their degree.

    That the ABA got away with calling what is essentially a Master’s degree a “Doctorate” is the real scandal — and for those not familiar with the story, the law schools simply renamed what had been a Bachelor’s of Laws Degree, even allowing graduates to turn in their LLB degrees for a replacement JD degree.

    And the ultimate irony is that this is probably the only “Doctorate” that isn’t a terminal degree — one with a JD can then go on to earn a Master’s of Law. Yep, Master’s degree comes after the Doctorate….

    “Jill Biden has an Ed.D degree that required even less study than becoming a lawyer, and no original research — indeed, it required less research than I conducted while at Harvard Law School.”

    Well, my EdD required something like 70 graduate credits, extensive original research and a 203 page dissertation that I had to publicly defend. We have a real problem with consistency of standards in the academy and I resent my doctorate being compared to hers. I actually earned mine.

  5. This outrage is to preemptively silence those who might examine dissertation granting in various “woke” fields. It would not take much to expose far worse intellectual fraud rampant in countless “Studies” Departments, fraud all justified by advancing social justice. The real scandal is not this one instance of a bogus “Dr.” Far worse are those academics who knowingly let awful scholarship be certified as the real thing. This is a violation of our professional responsibly to honor high standard. Now, nobody will dare say anything about truly dreadful examples of academic dishonesty provide this “research” honors the PC gods, Mission accomplished, and the diploma mills can return to work without being bothered.

  6. I hold a Ph.D. (in STEM). Whenever I walk into a classroom at the beginning of the semester to teach a graduate class, I do introduce myself as “doctor”. But context is everything. It’s an engineering class so I can rest assured nobody in that class thinks I’m a gynecologist or ophthalmologist. And I never refer to myself as “doctor” outside of an academic setting. To do otherwise is not only pretentious but it is done purposely to deceive.

    1. I view it the same way that a lot of women viewed being called “Mrs” or “Miss” in years past — I resent being called “Mr” because I *do* have a Doctorate and I’m damn sure that I earned it.

      I’m no more deceiving anyone than a woman who uses “Ms” is deceiving anyone on her marital status.

      1. But you are. “More deceiving” that is.

        The distinction here is context and common meaning.

        Certainly inside the academy we encounter any number of ‘doctors’. It is a common title (less common that Professor, though) and most typically used student-to-teacher and sometimes colleague to colleague (albeit, many times sarcastically: “Well Doctor Smith are you having the egg salad for lunch today?” “Why no, Dr. Jones, I brought my very own PB&J!”)

        Outside the academy, though, to be titled ‘doctor’ or worse, to be self-titled ‘doctor’ is to invite the commonly held understanding that you should be the one called when Little Johnny gashes his knee. That understanding is universal. When we ask, “Is there a doctor in the house?”, no one is expecting an EdD to step forward. When someone says, “I need to go to the doctor.” we don’t believe they need to see someone who’s an expert in Spanish Poetry. When Valley Girl Tiffany tells us, “I want to marry a doctor.” we don’t think she’s expecting to marry someone who knows an awful lot about “Student Retention in Community Colleges.”

        So yes, to introduce yourself as doctor OUTSIDE the academy is indeed misleading and, honestly, my friend, more than a little bit pretentious (which is not to say you did not earn the degree or the respect due anyone who spends that much in school).

        And no, I’d have to disagree, use of ‘Ms’. as an honorific is simply intended as an introductory catch-all. It is deliberately designed to NOT convey marital status….especially when one’s marital status has nothing to do with the context in which it is used. ‘Doctor’, however, outside the academy, implies all kinds of things, all of which — in common usage — have to do with bodies, blood, and bandages and nothing to do with John Dewey.

    2. Where I went to school, the University of Chicago, you can walk into a classroom and introduce yourself as Professor but not Doctor unless you are a medical doctor. Sounds like a good idea to me.

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