Jill Biden Deserves to be Called “Dr. Biden”

Anyone who doesn’t think so never did the work to earn a doctorate.

Steve Jones
Dec 13, 2020 · 3 min read
Dr. Jill Biden greets troops during her tenure as Second Lady of the U.S. (White House photo)

Columnist Joseph Epstein opined in the Wall Street Journal Saturday that Jill Biden should drop the “Dr.” before her name. “ ‘Dr. Jill Biden’ sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic,” Epstein wrote.

The only thing that’s a “touch comic” here is that Epstein had the nerve to write such tripe. He even mixed it with old-school sexism by addressing Dr. Biden as “Madame First Lady — Mrs. Biden — Jill — kiddo.”

Doug Emhoff, the incoming “second gentleman,” responded to Epstein’s article that “Dr. Biden earned her degrees through hard work and pure grit. She is an inspiration to me, to her students, and to Americans across this country. This story would never have been written about a man.”

In truth, Epstein was spewing sour grapes. He admitted that he had never earned a doctorate, and had, in fact, “taught at Northwestern University for 30 years without a doctorate or any advanced degree. I have only a B.A. in absentia from the University of Chicago — in absentia because I took my final examination on a pool table at Headquarters Company, Fort Hood, Texas, while serving in the peacetime Army in the late 1950s.”

Great. So let’s be generous and say the “late 1950s” was 1959. That was before the Vietnam War college-deferment boom flooded the market with so many Ph.Ds that no one could teach in a college without one.

That trend has not ebbed. If you have the guts to get a Ph.D. or Ed.D today, you may find yourself cobbling together a semi-living by taking on multiple adjunct positions at a variety of junior colleges.

I have a Ph.D. I worked hard to get it, and my wife and I both worked jobs to get through it. Even so, we emerged with a small mountain of student debt, which we’ve been paying off for 23 years. Not complaining, it could have been worse, and the Ph.D. opened doors that would have remained closed without it.

I have many friends with Ph.D.s and Ed.D.s. They all worked just as hard as I did to get them. Many held down full-time professorships in positions that demanded terminal degrees, so they drove for hours two nights a week to finish doctoral course work.

Then they wrote dissertations.

And went back to work.

It’s everyone’s personal option, of course, but I think everyone who has a doctorate deserves to be called “Dr.,” especially if they are working, teaching professors. It conveys accomplishment to students, and shows them the value of persistence in education.

(There’s a bit of social custom here, of course: in front of students we call each other “Dr.,” with each other, it’s first name only.)

Dr. Biden got her Ed.D. in 2007 from the University of Delaware. Her dissertation was Student Retention at the Community College: Meeting Students’ Needs. Epstein even trolled the dissertation saying that title was “unpromising.” Epstein should be aware that student retention, especially during Covid, is one of most urgent issues facing colleges and universities today.

Dr. Biden has taught English and reading, and she taught at Northern Virginia Community College during her husband’s tenure as vice president. She intends to continue teaching at Northern Virginia as First Lady.

Northwestern University has distanced itself from Epstein and his asinine comments.

Northwestern’s English Department also commented, saying:

Joseph Epstein should be quiet. He chose not to pursue a doctorate. Many people did, though, and they are “Dr.s” by any right.

If Dr. Jill Biden wants to be called “Dr. Jill Biden,” so be it. She’s earned the right, and she demonstrates that every day through her commitment to education.


History, Pop Culture, Politics, and Life

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store