Paul L. Caron
Dean




Sunday, December 20, 2020

More On The Controversy Over 'Dr.' Jill Biden

LawProfBlawg (Anonymous Professor, Top 100 Law School), Dr. Biden And That Op-Ed: Funny How the 'Dr.' Thing and the 'Hierarchy' Thing Are Related:

Dear Law Professors:

It started with yet another “Let’s not call her Dr.” hit piece. The kind that has been written before, many times. No, I’m not going to link to it.

Then came the style guides, which showed that only those with an M.D. should be called doctor. As if to say that makes it perfectly okay to publish the hit piece. I’m missing the part of the style guide where newspapers call Ph.D.s “kiddo.” Maybe you can help me find it. ...

Oh, just as an aside: I see law professors be dismissive of Ph.D.s every f**king day. I mean, unless they want to hire someone with a Ph.D./J.D. Then it’s OMG GUSH so IMPRESSIVE. Want to guess who that usually benefits? Want to guess where their J.D.s usually come from? ...

You see, this isn’t just about Dr. Biden. It is about the microaggressions that women face every day. The slights to their expertise. The fact that you’ll find any f**king excuse not to call her Dr. just because it offends you. But thanks for the nice discussion of disparate impact with your “I only call M.D.s doctors” standards. Want to look at THAT data? 

It’s about how when the hierarchy is challenged by minorities and women making inroads, it means somehow that the achievements mean less somehow because it isn’t the coveted prize of only white men.

Eugene Volokh (UCLA), Who Should Be Called Dr.? Probably Not Jill Biden, Just as Lawyers Like Me Aren't:

I didn't much care for the Wall Street Journal op-ed that said Jill Biden shouldn't be referred to using the title "Dr." Certainly calling a grown stranger (and especially the soon-to-be First Lady) "kiddo," even as a joke, seems disrespectful; nor is her using the "Dr." title "fraudulent" or "comic."

Nonetheless, the view that Jill Biden should be called "Dr." because she earned her Ed.D. strikes me as unsound, too.

Steven Lubet (Northwestern) & Andrew Koppelman (Northwestern), That Op-Ed About Jill Biden Is Awful. Northwestern’s Response Might Be Worse.:

Last week the essayist Joseph Epstein provoked an uproar by writing a silly Wall Street Journal piece saying that Jill Biden, who has a doctorate in education — formally, an Ed.D. — should stop using the honorific “Dr.” The essay was rude and condescending to the next first lady, referring to her as “kiddo” and calling her dissertation “unpromising.”

But what happened next is also “unpromising.” Northwestern University’s English department’s website published a poorly composed denunciation, obviously intended to retaliate for Epstein’s loutish opinion. A spokesman for the university saw fit to announce that “while we firmly support academic freedom and freedom of expression, we do not agree with Mr. Epstein’s opinion.” Most alarmingly, Epstein’s name abruptly disappeared from the department’s website. Epstein was a visiting lecturer at Northwestern from 1974 to 2002, and as late as last week he was listed on the department website as an “emeritus lecturer.”

As current law-school faculty members at Northwestern, specializing in constitutional law (Koppelman) and professional responsibility (Lubet), we believe that it is a serious violation of academic freedom to penalize a faculty member, including an emeritus one, for expressing unpopular views. ...

Almost every American university has distressing incidents in its history, such as the exploitation of enslaved labor and construction on stolen land. An honest accounting requires reckoning with history, not erasing it, and that includes even the trivial recognition of those who have held teaching positions. Northwestern’s own motto begins “Quaecumque sunt vera,” meaning “Whatsoever things are true.” It may be uncomfortable, but it is nonetheless true that Joseph Epstein is an emeritus lecturer in English at Northwestern University.

Chronicle of Higher Education, That Op-Ed About Jill Biden Was Sexist. But the Real Problem Lies Deeper.:

No matter how many words one muted on Twitter this past weekend — “Epstein,” “Ph.D.,” “doctor,” “Jill Biden” — the outrage kept coming. Joseph Epstein, longtime editor of The American Scholar and an essayist whose fair prominence belies Twitter’s evident lack of familiarity with his work, published an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal belittling Jill Biden’s scholarly accomplishments using repulsive, demeaning language.

Biden is an accomplished professor with a doctorate in education. For many academics, especially women, her career path is particularly inspiring: She didn’t go straight to graduate school from college, and she didn’t receive her doctorate until she was 55. For many women, this is relatable; women often defer graduate-school ambitions until family needs stabilize. It only enhances Biden’s standing that she teaches at the community-college level, since these institutions have arguably done more to welcome women and people of color into the world of higher education than four-year schools. ...

The demands for deference speak to gatekeeping and a general clubbiness that is hard to penetrate without a background that includes close proximity to upper-middle-class white people. That’s certainly alive in my profession, too. But with a little distance, it occurs to me that one reason the response to Epstein’s demand for deference from Jill Biden (“kiddo”) was so intense is that, as an external observer, he is a safe target. It is not, in fact, safe for women and people of color to respond in kind to those who have soft power over them and their careers in academe. Is it any wonder that so many academics responded to Epstein’s disrespect by insisting on respect for the credential they — and Jill Biden — have rightly earned?

Chronicle of Higher Education, Joseph Epstein Is Not a Fan of the Modern University:

The essayist who mocked Jill Biden’s degree, and was widely derided in return, has been lobbing grenades at colleges for decades.

You may have heard that Joseph Epstein wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal arguing that Jill Biden, soon to be the first lady of the United States, shouldn’t call herself “Dr.” even though she has earned a terminal degree in education and has every right to employ that honorific. You may have also heard that his column was not generally well-received, inspiring rebukes from the likes of Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and his former employer, Northwestern University (which said it “strongly disagrees with Mr. Epstein’s misogynistic views”). But were you aware that Joseph Epstein has other opinions about, for example, how college presidents these days are ridiculous figureheads who lack the gravitas of their predecessors, or why the real problem with the current crop of undergraduates is that their parents hugged them too much?

Well, he does. And he shares these pungent critiques, and many more like them, in his recent book, Gallimaufry: A Collection of Essays, Reviews, Bits. It should be noted that although Epstein is enjoying — or maybe enduring — an unexpected cameo in the national news cycle, it’s not as if he just burst onto the hot-take scene. His publisher, Axios Press, calls him “the greatest living essayist writing in English,” a superlative that rules out a host of worthy contenders, though what’s unquestionably true is that he is among the language’s most prolific. Gallimaufry contains 528 pages’ worth of his musings. His 2018 collection, The Ideal of Culture, is a mere 572 pages. And there is no shortage of other volumes with droll titles for the Epstein completist: With My Trousers Rolled, Once More Around the Block, Narcissus Leaves the Pool, The Middle of My Tether. ...

The point is, the Wall Street Journal column wasn’t at all out of character. Epstein is a seasoned observer of the academic milieu, and he hasn’t liked what he’s been observing for a very long time. His mockery of Jill Biden’s degree is entirely consistent with his abiding distress at the “decay of the contemporary university.” He notes with satisfaction that he retired from teaching in 2002, before the rise of smartphones and back when “political correctness was still in its incipient, not yet its tyrannous, stage.” Now he lobs grenades from a safe distance. I emailed Epstein to ask if he was up for an interview about the emphatic response to his column. He replied (from his iPhone) to say thanks but that he was, no surprise, “planning to write something of my own about it.”

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2020/12/more-on-the-controversy-over-dr-jill-biden.html

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Comments

UT: "Oh, right - no one did that because Dr. Sebastian Gorka was 1) on their team and 2) not a woman."

The Washington Post openly mocked him. That same outlet is now carrying water for Mrs. Biden, because they're on HER team, and she IS a woman.

Dude, anybody who's frequented this blog knows your standard MO is hypcritical partisan hack. The fact that you're not applying the same standard to EVERYONE regardless of party affiliation and gender just validates that point.

Posted by: MM Classic | Dec 24, 2020 4:58:08 PM

UT: "an Ed.D is a mere 'kiddo'."

Mrs. Biden's disseration, based on what I've read, is something a high school or junior college kid could've written. It's ideological rubbish, too.

She's not a real doctor, so she should stop misleading the public about that. And the AP Style Guide prohibits calling her doctor, which is a wise journalistic standard. I recall the Left using this line of attack against Laura Schlessinger, Dr. Laura on her radio show, and she had a PhD in physiology, so this is your side's standard being applied now.

And lastly, from the AMA's Journal of Ethics:

https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/physician-any-other-name/2001-08

"In other social relationships, such as those between patient and physician, the names we use to identify individuals and their roles also matter; they reflect and shape the identities, obligations, and expectations of the participants."

"The term 'doctor' came into usage in the early Middle Ages when the education of physicians shifted to the university setting. 'Doctor' signified a physician who had received formal university training."

Mrs.Biden ought to practice basic ethics and not mislead the public.

Posted by: MM Classic | Dec 23, 2020 11:02:33 AM

Hey, remember when a bunch of bachelors-only right wing editorialists whined and cried about Dr. Sebastian Gorka's being called Dr., or about how shoddy his Hungarian doctoral program was? Oh, right - no one did that because Dr. Sebastian Gorka was 1) on their team and 2) not a woman.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 22, 2020 5:32:36 PM

John, don't you have a class to teach?

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 22, 2020 2:20:18 PM

First Lady Jill Biden can be called Dr. Biden if she wants to. Joseph Epstein was disrespectful to Dr. Biden in a recent published letter. He has a history of being disrespectful about all kinds of stuff, apparently. I don’t see why anyone cares about his opinion, my opinion of him, or anyone else's opinion of him. Let’s collectively let it go.

Posted by: Chance | Dec 21, 2020 8:32:42 PM

Since lawyers also earn doctorate degrees, should we have to start addressing, and referring to all of them in print, as "Dr." - for example as "Dr. Rudy Giuliani." The entire issue is a murky one which at times has involved titles, history, and gender. Here’s some background.

Even those who earned a genuine medical doctoral degree weren't always referred to by the title "doctor." That title was often reserved only for males in the medical profession, with women sometimes addressed or referred to as "doctress" (presumably similar to actress, waitress, songstress, etc.).

Originally, those who attended law school for three years, after obtaining a basic bachelor degree from a four-year university, typically received only another bachelor degree upon graduating and going on to practice their profession. It was called a Bachelor of Laws [L.L.B. or LL.B, Legum Baccalaureus], although some law schools offered both a LL.B and J.D. degree at the time. Thus, once most lawyers didn't even have a doctoral degrees.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, law schools began changing the name of this initial 3-year degree from an LL.B. to a doctoral degree: Juris Doctorate or Doctor of Jurisprudence [J.D. or JD]. Most law schools eventually made the change retroactive.

Traditionally, attorneys have not used the title "Dr." or "Doctor" to refer to themselves and to members of their profession, but rather have used the suffix "Esq." to designate individuals as lawyers.

But as the New York Times noted, as late as the mid-1970s, there was confusion as to whether "Esq." could be used in referring to female attorneys, since the term "Esquire" originally referred to a knight's attendant, or members of the English landed gentry, whose gender is "clearly male and should apply only to men."

By the way, many publications follow AP style, which dictates that "Dr." should not be used for academic credentials in news articles. Also, most attorneys who appear on TV news and discussion programs, male as well as female, are not referred to as "Dr."

Posted by: LawProf John Banzhaf | Dec 21, 2020 6:55:49 AM

The stature/title of one with that nonsense degree isn't of much interest to me. I want to determine whether she has been living off SUA or other criminally derived proceeds. For decades.

Posted by: Steven M. Harris | Dec 21, 2020 4:42:09 AM

For Heaven, call people what they want. I’m a Jewish Guy with a Scottish name. Leave her alone.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Dec 21, 2020 2:27:52 AM

Everyone with a brain knows she shouldn't be using that honorific.

Only medical doctors should be referred to as "doctor."

Not Ph.D.s, not J.D.s, and certainly not Ed.D.s.

Ffs how has participation trophy culture gone this far.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 20, 2020 2:28:01 PM

Joseph Epstein, in my opinion, is America's finest essayist. I think he is must reading. Agree, disagree, he always is interesting and stimulating and is everything I look for in a writer/teacher. I have no comment on the writings of Jill Biden, as I have never read her. But, do yourself a favor, read some Joseph Epstein books. You will be very rewarded. Abe Carnow, CPA.

Posted by: Abraham S Carnow | Dec 20, 2020 10:53:11 AM

I have a plied high and deep. I'm not embarrassed by it (although I would have been far better off if I had gone to law school instead), but I cringe whenever someone calls me a doctor. To me, anybody who calls themselves a doctor with a PhD outside of academia is pretentious at best and insecure at worst.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Dec 20, 2020 9:21:10 AM

So if Epstein is just a mere bachelor's holder, what should we call him? By his *logic,* an Ed.D is a mere "kiddo," so I suggest labelling him not just in relation to this slight, but by his apparent maturity level: toddler.

And for any profs under the age of 60 reading this, law or otherwise, can you imagine a time when academic hiring standards were so unbelievably low that they were onboarding mere bachelor's holders like Epstein? Yeah, I can't imagine it, either. I mean, did this guy even have to write a senior thesis?

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 20, 2020 8:23:24 AM