Joseph Epstein was recognized on Northwestern University’s website as “emeritus lecturer” for more than twenty years. That changed Saturday when it was discovered that his profile is no longer available. Epstein has been canceled.
Epstein made the mistake of criticizing Jill Biden in an opinion essay published in the Wall Street Journal Friday. He calls her out for insisting on using the designation of “Dr.” with her name. He ends the essay with a suggestion that she consider stopping it, at least for now. He wrote, “please consider stowing it, at least in public, at least for now.” Many people applauded his essay, or at least the sentiment behind it, including myself. Most people with a Ph.D. do not refer to themselves as Jill Biden does, using the formal recognition of her advanced academic degree. It sounds haughty, frankly.
Mr. Epstein is not innocent here. His tone and some of the wording of his essay are often condescending and dismissive, which is unfortunate. I would like to think that Northwestern University canceled him for that reason and not for simply penning an op-ed published in a major news publication but color me cynical. Instead of his choice of words and the tone, he was likely canceled for having the nerve to criticize the wife of the Democrat president-elect. Do we really think Northwestern would have done the same to an essay writer critical of Melania Trump, for example, and acted so swiftly? Of course not.
The author started out with a bang – he didn’t mince words and was unnecessarily coarse in his wording. It is possible to be respectful while criticizing someone and still make a point but Epstein chose to start with words like “fraudulent” and “comic”. Then he summarized his resume with a focus on his career at Northwestern. He’s an older man now and bristled when people addressed him as “Dr. Epstein” since he doesn’t have a doctorate degree.
Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name? “Dr. Jill Biden ” sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title “Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.” A wise man once said that no one should call himself “Dr.” unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.
I 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. I do have an honorary doctorate, though I have to report that the president of the school that awarded it was fired the year after I received it, not, I hope, for allowing my honorary doctorate. During my years as a university teacher I was sometimes addressed, usually on the phone, as “Dr. Epstein.” On such occasions it was all I could do not to reply, “Read two chapters of Henry James and get into bed. I’ll be right over.”
The essay could almost be taken as a tongue-in-cheek exercise but I think he is completely earnest here. Maybe if he continues to suffer public ridicule, as he is now on social media, he will decide to call it just that – an attempt to make light of something that bothers him. Women on all parts of the political spectrum are angry that Epstein said the quiet part out loud. Dr. Jill deserves to feel proud of her academic and professional accomplishments. Using the title in everyday life, though, is an act of arrogance. It’s obnoxious. On Twitter, for example, her handle is @DrBiden.
Epstein makes some legitimate points about higher education and a general loss of stature of college degrees, including advanced degrees. There isn’t as much prestige associated with college degrees now as in the past. As for a Ph.D., Epstein says they “may once have held prestige, but that has been diminished by the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards in university education generally.”
By Saturday night it was being noted on social media that Epstein had been canceled by Northwestern. The comments to this news on social media included references to past statements deemed politically incorrect. As I said, he is obviously an older man, having served in the military in the 1950s, so he likely has offered opinions in the past that do not hold up well today.
It appears Northwestern University’s English Department has removed Joseph Epstein’s profile from its website.
Earlier today, he was listed as an “emeritus lecturer.” pic.twitter.com/XBZI8ZbN1B
— David Gura (@davidgura) December 13, 2020
Northwestern University issued a statement.
A statement from Northwestern University, on Joseph Epstein: pic.twitter.com/rhCmK2HvSy
— David Gura (@davidgura) December 13, 2020
This is not the first time that Jill Biden’s degrees have been the topic of discussion. Earlier this year, Whoopi Goldberg on The View even made the mistake of referencing Jill as a physician because of her Dr. designation. That’s a common mistake, right? Seeing ‘Dr.’ conjures up an assumption that it is a medical title, not an academic one. Goldberg went further as to recommend Jill to be the next Surgeon General because she is such a great doctor. She was quickly corrected and had to walk all that malarkey back after the next commercial break. In a tweet yesterday, Meghan McCain, a co-host on The View and its token conservative, railed against Epstein and stood up for her personal friend, Jill Biden.
In 2013, the liberal L.A. Times ran an article criticizing Jill’s use of the professional designation.
Around the time of former President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013, when Joe Biden once again took the oath of office for vice president, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed about the use of “Dr.” before Jill Biden’s name.
That L.A. Times article, titled, “Joe Biden’s wife is a ‘Dr.,’ but she doesn’t deliver babies,” noted that the New York Times had recently referred to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as “Ms. Rice,” even though Rice also holds a Ph.D.
The same article noted that it wasn’t uncommon for many holders of high degrees to be addressed without the title, “Dr.”
“I have lots of friends (and a brother-in-law) with Ph.Ds,” author Michael McGough of the L.A. Times wrote at the time. “None of them expects to be addressed as ‘Dr.’ So what’s up with Jill Biden?”
“Whatever the explanation,” McGough continued, “It’s ironic that the spouse of just plain ‘Joe’ Biden should be described as ‘Dr.,’ when so many other holders of advanced degrees in public life have to settle for ‘Mr.’ or ‘Ms.’”
Jill Biden didn’t complete her Ph.D. until she was 55 years old. Her accomplishment is real and she deserves to feel proud. She’s worked in education throughout her marriage to a career politician, no doubt trying to create her own identity. The constant “Dr.” stuff, though, is a bit too much, especially from “Amtrak Joe’s” wife.
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