WSJ op-ed asking Jill Biden to drop title of “Doctor” sparks controversy


CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The Wall Street Journal is facing wide-spread backlash following a controversial article about Jill Biden. In the opinion piece, author Joseph Epstein speaks directly to Jill Biden. He starts off with a question.

“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?” wrote Epstein.

Epstein claims it sounds and feels “fraudulent” and “a touch comic.”

Following the release of the article, Jill Biden posted on social media:

“Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished,” Jill Biden wrote in a tweet.

But the article raises the question whether “doctor” is an appropriate title when it refers to a Ph.D.

Adam Ruben is a molecular biologist with a PhD. in his field. He says for years he’s struggled with the term.

“Sometimes it feels icky for me to be using it. If someone does not call me doctor, I don’t think I would ever step in and say uh no, no, no doctor! That feels wrong. It feels like I’m saying, ‘No I’m better than you’ve assessed me to be.’ So I don’t like it for that reason,” said Ruben.

Ruben says the use of doctor can come off a pretentious or arrogant at times; which is why he often chooses not to use it.  

“We’ve come to this strange place in our language, because we have one word that means two things. Doctor means someone with a doctoral degree. Doctor also means doctor of medicine. And so that right there sets some people off saying you can’t call yourself doctor unless you can actually be a medical doctor,” said Ruben.

President of Walden University Dr. Ward Ulmer says the term can and should be used in any situation.

“It’s perfectly acceptable to do that,” said Ulmer.

He points to the origin of the word. Doctor is derived from Latin meaning teacher. Ulmer says by using the title of doctor, a person is presenting themselves as an accomplished expert in their field.

“I think it’s because of the expertise that is shown. The demonstrated excellence in the field to recognize that you’ve mastered that field,” said Ulmer.

Although there are no set rules on when or where the title is appropriate; there is one thing these men agree on. The use of doctor really comes down to personal choice.

Epstein declined to comment on his opinion piece when NewsNation reached out to him earlier on Monday for an interview.

The University released a statement today:

“Joseph Epstein has not been a lecturer at Northwestern since 2003. While we firmly support academic freedom and freedom of expression, we do not agree with Mr. Epstein’s opinion and believe the designation of doctor is well deserved by anyone who has earned a Ph.D., an Ed.D., an M.D. or any other doctoral degree. Northwestern is firmly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and strongly disagrees with Mr. Epstein’s misogynistic views.”

Northwestern’s Department of English also has issued a statement, which can be found on the department website.

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