aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Doctor, doctor, tell me da news

I didn’t see the op-ed published in the WSJ about Jill Biden’s use of the title “Dr.” I have now seen a couple of news reports on it, and on the outsized reaction to it. This is the essence of smallball, but no issue is too small to whip up the hordes to retaliate over these days.

For the record, I have a Ph.D. in Secondary Education: Curriculum and Instruction, so I’m officially “Dr. Collins.” I use the title sporadically, in formal or academic contexts. I joke that I have an ornamental doctorate (not an honorary one, but then, not one directly germane to my professional activity). Lots of people have terminal degrees who don’t advertise their academic credentials, by the way. A former parishioner from way back had a Ph.D. in plant genetics, but he made his living selling insurance (it paid better than working for a seed corn company). He didn’t call himself “Dr.” Meanwhile, most lawyers have Juris Doctor degrees, but they usually sign themselves “Esq.” or “Attorney-at-law,” not “Dr.”

On the other hand, I’m also an ordained minister, so I’ve been “Rev.” most of my life. Among my clergy colleagues, those who have any sort of doctorate often use “Dr.” to the hilt, which I find rather odd. Perhaps I sit loosely to my title of “Dr.” because I had so many years of being called “Rev.” by people who used the title to hold me at arm’s length. Meanwhile, in higher ed circles, some faculty basically use “Dr.” as a first name. I remember the first time I called my SDED department chair “Marvin.” You’d thought I’d summoned the Demon of Flatulence or something.

Titles are tricky. Everyone wants respect. I’ve always said that if you’re going to use somebody’s title, get the title right. But honors come in many forms. My actual name is “Arthur,” but I’m known to most people as “Art.” “Art” is a name given to me by generations of Scouts and church youth, and I have accepted it as a label of honor from them. When I tell people who are nervous about what to call me to just call me “Art,” I’m not being overly informal. “Art” is my professional name. It is, in effect, an honorific, just as “Dr.” and “Rev.” are.

As for Jill Biden, there are various things to consider. Most people in public life don’t use their academic titles. “First Lady of the US” comes before “Ed.D. degree holder” on any Table of Precedence. So to cling to the extra title looks like padding your importance, and a punctilious use of her title by others sounds like Disraeli sucking up to Queen Victoria ("We authors, Ma'am"). Celebrities and commentators, even when they continue to occupy academic positions, often drop their academic titles, too. Victor Davis Hanson and the late Walter Williams are primarily known as authors and commentators, though they are legitimately Dr. Hanson and Dr. Williams. Again, their influence outside academia is bigger than their (also very important) academic work, so clinging to the academic titles would look arrogant or insecure.

As for the guy who first brought it up, I can’t tell if he was trying to be jocular or serious, but I know that all of those who are spending their energies attacking him are an unhealthy response to a piddly issue. Jill Biden herself, if she has any class, should shrug off such criticism with a bit of good humor, and would look bigger for doing so. Of course, her rabid defenders have no humor whatsoever – and no class, either. The self-appointed enforcers of "cancel culture" are always dead serious -- and very dangerous.

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