by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Terry Stoops writes for the Martin Center about the hubbub surrounding First Lady Jill Biden’s academic credentials.
“I’m hoping Dr. Jill becomes the surgeon general, his wife. Joe Biden’s wife. She would never do it, but, yeah, she’s a hell of a doctor. She’s an amazing doctor,” proclaimed actress and co-host of The View Whoopi Goldberg last March.
After someone alerted Whoopi to the fact that “Dr. Jill” has a doctor of education (EdD) degree from the University of Delaware and not a medical degree, Goldberg apologized. “I was wrong about his wife. I was wrong, before you start texting and emailing,” she said.
Starting with Goldberg’s slip-up in March and ending with Joseph Epstein’s Wall Street Journal op-ed asking Biden to “drop the doc” in December, Jill Biden’s ubiquitous presence on the national stage during the 2020 presidential election revived long-standing debates about the use of the “Dr.” honorific and the academic degrees that underlie it.
What does the honorific mean in an era of mass credentialing and low academic standards? …
… In early 2009, Los Angeles Times opinion columnist Robin Abcarian noticed that campaign news releases and subsequent White House announcements persistently referred to her as “Dr. Jill Biden.” She asked fellow journalists and academics to weigh in.
Responses ranged from dismissive to disapproval. Abcarian wrote that Joel Goldstein, a professor at St. Louis University School of Law, appeared to be “mildly amused upon hearing that Biden liked to be called Dr.” Time magazine writer Amy Sullivan opined, “Ordinarily, when someone goes by doctor and they are a PhD, not an MD, I find it a little bit obnoxious.” Washington Post desk chief Bill Walsh observed that “if you can’t heal the sick, we don’t call you doctor.”
Despite the criticism, the Biden camp continued to use the title with impunity. Many media outlets dutifully complied, even as the AP Stylebook established the reasonable standard of mandating the use of “Dr.” only for individuals who possessed a degree in medicine, dentistry, optometry, or veterinary medicine.