Posted in Academia

Dear Mr. Epstein…

I normally write this blog about things that aren’t super controversial, but come from my heart. Today’s blog also comes from my heart, but it may be a touch more controversial than my normal writing. Last night, shortly before bed, I was scrolling through Twitter and came across an opinion piece published during in the Wall Street Journal and written by a Mr. Joseph Epstein about the use of the honorific Dr. by Dr. Jill Biden.

By the time I finished reading the article, I was angry. It isn’t uncommon for me to become angry reading things that are linked on social media, but it is highly unusual for me to still be angry this long after I read it. I have seen multiple responses to Mr. Epstein today written by colleagues in academia, as well as those with other doctoral degrees. I have finally decided I need to respond so I can quit thinking about the article. I promise to return to regular blogging before next week.

Dear Mr. Epstein,
Your opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal concerning the use of the honorific earned by Dr. Jill Biden seems to be best described as ramblings of someone who just likes to be heard. I noticed, after doing some research into your background, that you earned a BA from the University of Chicago. Congratulations on earning your degree. Congratulations also on your award of the National Humanities Medal and your multiple appointments as editor, writer, and lecturer. Congratulations also on your awards of the Ribalow Prize and the Heartland Prize. And, while I am at it, thank you for your service to this country in the US Army. I would congratulate you on the award that you were given of the honorary doctorate but, as you said in your article, you did nothing to achieve that.
I was slightly confused when reading your OpEd as to whether you were intending to be snarky or if you really have a problem with Dr. Jill Biden. You see, it seems like your problem is not only with her, but also with the whole of education in general. You basically claimed that the only doctors are medical doctors. I do wonder if all the medical doctors know they aren’t to be called doctor unless they deliver a baby, though. To that aspect of your article, I do wonder what implications that has to those who have a PhD in Nursing. Do they get to be called Doctor, or is that reserved for only MDs who delivered a baby?
You also seem to be of the thought that those of us with that lowly Ed.D. Degree would be so foolish as to answer that we are a doctor when the flight attendant asks if there is a doctor on board. I can promise you that we know very well that our Ed.D. does not qualify us to perform in flight surgery. In fact, most of us would run the other way if that was what we were being asked to do at any point. No, we realize what our role is, but I question whether you actually realize what those of us with Doctorate of Education actually are trying to accomplish.
I have one of those Ed.D. Degrees, and let me just tell you from a personal perspective why I got that degree. Believe it or not, it was not so I could be mistaken for a medical doctor. In fact, it had everything to do with being a better educator. I wanted to teach in higher education, as a full fledged faculty member. I do realize you have also worked a stint at a university as a lecturer with a BA, but that was not my goal. I didn’t want to be a guest lecturer, I wanted to be full time faculty. That requires a terminal degree. There are 2 options for terminal degrees in the field of Education, the Ed.D. & the Ph.D. I chose the Ed.D. In my case, my dissertation was on the ways that CTE teachers are indoctrinated into the field of education. Dr. Biden’s dissertation was on retention in community colleges. I realize that with your “extensive” experience and research you have deemed community colleges as ridiculous and unnecessary. In fact, your implication was that community colleges aren’t worth worrying about. I do sincerely hope that you aren’t in need of assistance by one of the MDs that started in the community college system or one of the lawyers that began their study of law in an intro to law course at a community college.
I am certain that you thought through the implications you made about the erosion of the Ph.D. & how that would affect your own credentials. It does seem, in fact, that Northwestern no longer even wants to claim you as having been a lecturer, so you may wish to strike that from your resume. It seems your very desire is to knock the field of higher education, while at the same time profiting from it. I’m certain you were paid at Northwestern, and I imagine you were paid by Phi Beta Kappa. Perhaps you could find it in your heart to donate the money made from those endeavors to someplace that provides counseling for those students who are broken from defending their Ph.D.s.
That brings me to my last point about your article. Not every doctoral student is brought to tears in the defense of the dissertation. There are definitely some that have had this experience, but that does not mean they were more or less prepared to defend than anyone else, and it certainly is not a reflection of the coursework the completed to get to that point. I had a supportive dissertation committee with a chair that called me once a week to remind me to breathe. I happened to be raising 2 kids, teaching, and supporting my deployed husband as I wrote my dissertation so that reminder was what I needed for my mental health. I wish you had experienced something like that in your education. Amazingly enough, I still managed to write a dissertation that mattered, although I am certain that you would disagree. If you are so inclined, you can find my dissertation at: https://www.cn.edu/libraries/tiny_mce/tiny_mce/plugins/filemanager/files/Dissertations/Ronda_Blevins.pdf
In closing, I realize that you have achieved what you wanted by writing your OpEd in getting people to say your name. I would even bet that people have bought your books because of this. However, I am left with just 2 questions for you.
1. Would you have written this same piece if Dr. Biden’s doctorate was in something other than Education?
2. Would you have written this same piece if Dr. Biden was male?

Feel free to think hard about those questions. While you are thinking I have one more:
Where would you like those of us who have the useless degrees to work since we are obviously not worthy of working in academia and who would you like to teach in the many institutions of higher education to replace us?

By the way, Mr. Epstein, I don’t fault you for your opinion. Everyone gets to have one of those. Yours just happens to come across as misogynistic and elitist at best, out of touch and jealous at worst.

Very Respectfully,
Dr. Ronda M. Blevins