After reading Joseph Epstein’s demeaning article about Jill Biden, whom he addresses variously as “Mrs. Biden,” “Jill,” and “Kiddo,” I had conflicting responses to Joe’s, Joey’s, or Joker’s comments. Initially, I was convinced his snide remarks were generated by a nabob of snobbery campaigning to deny the label of “scholar” to any but those hoop jumpers who gain his approval. As he eagerly details, his standards are uncompromisingly high, particularly for one whose only formal degree is on the Bachelor’s level. In addition, I couldn’t overlook the blatancy of the article’s self-promotion, his conspicuously casual mention of work with The American Scholar, the magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Later, in a more charitable mood, I saw it for what I’m now convinced it really is: a puerile attempt to deal with something that obviously rankles him: clearly, he suffers from earned doctorate envy. He’s chosen to deal with that affliction by resorting to schoolyard tactics. “Even though I don’t have the kind of degree that legitimately entitles me to be addressed as ‘Doctor,’ I’m smarter than you are!” is his shout directed at those who have attained what he hasn’t. None of his academic writing seems to have opened his closed mind to the fact that Dr. Biden’s dissertation topic examining community college retention is anything but “unpromising,” as Epstein puts it. It may not be a topic that would attract his cloistered coterie, but it potentially impacts our society far more than much of the content of publications he’s worked with. People who research ways to improve unsatisfactory conditions of society, he insinuates, don’t merit doctorates. Smug Olympians like Epstein and his ilk help explain the unfortunate mistrust of many people for higher education. The harm done by this snobbery is incalculable.
The condescending writer was concerned enough to “suggest” that Jill Biden drop the “Dr.” Therefore, I take the liberty of respectfully submitting my suggestion to Epstein, the preening preacher. Accept the fact that, in essence, you are simply Doctorless Epstein. Instead of allowing this self-perceived deficiency to continue to gnaw at you, why not undertake the challenge of a real, earned doctorate? And if the shock of this idea hasn’t already caused your mind to implode, think about researching non-esoteric ideas and writing a dissertation on a topic that could benefit the broader world in which we live.
Abandon your cherished memories of yesteryear when rigor was exemplified by doctoral candidates being so stressed they fainted at the prospect of defending their theses. Stress inhibits productive thought. Infusing it unnecessarily into oral exams makes that requirement seem almost like a fraternity initiation ritual.
If you take my suggestion to pursue your very own earned doctorate, perhaps you can research topics like how persistent elitism among the self-perceived intellectual aristocracy inflicts societal harm. A little off the wall for you, I know, but it could kick-start an obviously stalled growth process.