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Doctor Jill Biden is in the House

Before she’s even taken up residence in the White House’s East Wing, future First Lady and former Second Lady Jill Biden has already emerged as a source of controversy in some circles. The issue? Her use of the prefix ‘Dr.’

Jill Biden, a long-time educator, holds a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in educational leadership from the University of Delaware, which she received in 2007. However, critics argue—at least on the face—that the Ed.D. in general is not sufficient justification for the Dr. title, nor, in her specific case, is the subject of her dissertation—retention rates of students in community colleges—worthy of the designation.

Drop the ‘Dr.’?

The current debate was triggered, or at least given a spotlight, by a Wall Street Journal editorial written by Joseph Epstein. "Any chance you might drop the 'Dr.' before your name?" Epstein wrote. "'Dr. Jill Biden' sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title 'Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.'"

The way Epstein in particular addresses his open letter to Biden is telling: “Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo.” It’s hard to imagine a more patronizing way to address any woman, let alone a soon-to-be First Lady with a doctorate.

Regardless of one’s opinion of Jill Biden’s dissertation, the question that must come to mind is why writers like Epstein are so concerned with her use of the prefix ‘Dr.’ For Biden’s defenders, like Kirschner, the indignation arguably derives, not from the content of her work, nor even her political affiliation, but instead from her gender.

Epstein isn’t the only writer to express his views on Biden’s worthiness of the extra letters. In a piece for Forbes defending Biden, Ann Kirschner, Ph.D. discusses her own experience with the illustrious prefix. The Wall Street Journal’s intense focus on her degree, she says, “made me take a closer look at my attitude towards my doctorate and the career plans that once consumed my life.

“My scars on this particular topic date back to 1980, when a New York Times article identified me as Miss Kirschner, a Ph.D. leaving academics to work in business...but in the next paragraph, referred to a male Ph.D. as Dr. Patten.” Kirschner goes on to question whether Epstein has even read the dissertation of which he is so critical.

We Think They Protest Too Much

Have you heard of Henry Kissinger? Dr. Kissinger. A Ph.D. doctor, not an M.D. doctor yet, unlike their disdain for Dr. Biden’s credential, nobody ever balked at calling Henry doctor! He’s not alone. Can you think of any male Ph.D.’s or Ed.D.’s whose credentials have been scoffed at? Neither can we.

The fact is there are many who would seek to explain away, cut down or simply ignore the credentials of women with advanced degrees, not based on their accomplishments or politics, but on their gender. Is there any wonder that women lag behind men in Corporate America—earning only 81.5% of what men earn?

Dr. Jill Biden is a doctor. Joseph Epstein is not. He earned a B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1959, in absentia, while serving in the army. A lot has changed over the past 60 years. Epstein, it seems, has not.

Enough said.

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