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 back a backlash against the article's overt sexism and condescension.
The play “Is there a doctor in the White House? Not if you have an M.D. by Joseph Epstein, Senior Lecturer Emeritus of English at Northwestern University, is supposedly a foray into an ongoing debate about whether only doctors can claim the title, or whether it can also be used by PhD students or other PhD students like Biden has a PhD in educational leadership . (Many publications, including Vox, follow the Associated Press Stylebook, which "Dr." reserves for physicians.)
Epstein's comment went beyond this argument, however, to specifically belittle Biden's references and subject of study, beginning with addressing Biden – who is 69 years old – as a "child". In the statement, he describes their 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 approached 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 master's 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 doesn't deserve to be mentioned that way, writing, "A wise man once said no one should be" Dr. "call unless he has given 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 where these (doctoral exams) were being held, 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 digresses 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 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 his logic deficient. Critics, ranging from members of Biden's team to her colleagues, 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), you'd remove this obnoxious display of chauvinism from your paper and apologize you with 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 policy 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 doctor to make themselves more believable (and feminine)." & 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 Medical Doctor to add credibility
* Scientists and POC scientists to insist that people don't overlook their actual references
– Don Moynihan (@donmoyn) December 12, 2020
The comment also implied that studying at 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 looked at it without curtailing the title – is a serious disadvantage for an important topic.
Community college students make up roughly one-third of the U.S. student population, according to Fall 2018 data. 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 having 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 contain less than she would have earned at a state 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 put 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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