April 27, 2013

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Diagnosing Dr. Biden: The second lady exemplifies a bloated class of people with irrelevant, unimpressive titles.

Doctor Biden has joined Twitter as @DrBiden. The account is “run by Dr. Jill Biden’s Office,” and it tells us absorbing things about Dr. Biden — things such as “Yesterday, Dr. Biden hosted an education roundtable” and “Yesterday, Dr. Biden honored the nation’s top teachers.” It retweets praise, too: “Thank you Dr. Biden for your work as an educator and as a voice for all educators in our nation,” reads one tribute. If a tweet is signed “Jill,” the doctoral bio informs us, this indicates that it is a “tweet from Dr. Biden.” “Jill,” if you’re wondering, is Dr. Biden’s nickname. Her formal name is “Dr.”

Wherever she goes and whatever she does, Dr. Biden is always referred to as “Dr. Biden.” “Is Joe Biden married to a physician?” wondered the Los Angeles Times in January. “You might have gotten that impression while watching television coverage of the inauguration.” Yes, you might have indeed.

Dr. Biden isn’t a physician, of course. She has a doctorate – in “educational leadership,” whatever the hell that is. This Ed.D gives her the right to call herself “Dr.” in much the same way as my Master’s degree gives me the right to put MA after my name. Perhaps my Twitter handle should be @MA(Oxon)Charles?

It works: I was actually under the impression that she was a physician before I read this. A doctorate is a doctorate, I suppose, but the question of whether there should be doctorates in “Educational Leadership” seems open to me.

UPDATE: Reader Thomas Williams writes: “Remember how the wife of the previous Vice President was always called ‘Dr Lynne Cheney?’ No? Me either.” Good point. And she’s got an actual Ph.D.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Jeff Mitchell writes: “My wife earned a PhD in Ed Research last year. I’ve never heard her refer to herself as Dr. Mitchell, but she did give a passing thought to changing our stationery letterhead to Dr and Mr Mitchell… What is it about the credentialed elite?”

But it’s not because Jill Biden is black. Or German.

And reader James Rummel emails:

Just read your post about how Dr. Biden is obsessively insistent when it comes to people using her title. It reminded me of something an academic once said that stuck with me.

They claimed that the more worthless the degree, the more harping they would do to make sure people said “doctor” before their name. It seems that people who earn doctorates in race/gender/class studies are more vocal, reacting with angry gusto and claiming a lack of respect, than anyone with a more down-to-Earth degree.

You work in the Ivory Tower. If it wouldn’t step on any toes or bruise any egos to the point where your own career path is damaged, I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Does your own observations of the educator class support this conclusion?

That sounds right, but I have to say I don’t really have the firsthand experience to support it. First, although the law degree is a Juris Doctor, law professors don’t go by “Doctor,” preferring “Professor.” I’m not sure if this a leftover from when law degrees were bachelor’s degrees, or if it’s part of the old physician/attorney rivalry. And most academics, when among other academics, don’t use the title “Doctor” either. So while it sounds plausible, I can’t really say.

But if someone does that and it annoys you, just go all Sheldon Cooper on their degrees.

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