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University 'cancels' author of essay who criticized references to Jill Biden as 'Dr': 'Sounds and feels fraudulent'


'Northwestern is firmly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and strongly disagrees with Mr. Epstein's misogynistic views'

TIM SLOAN/AFP via Getty Images

The author of an opinion essay that criticized references to Jill Biden, the wife of media-declared president-elect Joe Biden, as a "Dr." was summarily canceled from his associations with Northwestern University.

What happened?

Joseph Epstein, an author who was previously a lecturer at Northwestern, argued in an essay for the Wall Street Journal that Jill Biden should not receive the honorary title because her doctorate is neither in medicine nor science, but in education.

In his essay — which was titled, "Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D." — Epstein wrote:

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.

After all, Epstein went on to argue, the process of earning a Ph.D. is not as strenuous as it once was, therefore it is not deserving of the same prestige.

"The Ph.D. may once have held prestige, but that has been diminished by the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards in university education generally, at any rate outside the sciences," Epstein wrote.

How did Northwestern respond?

Epstein's essay was circulated widely on Saturday, generating a tsunami of backlash, both against Epstein, who was accused of being sexist, and against the Wall Street Journal, which was criticized for publishing Epstein's opinion.

Northwestern also received criticism — likely because Epstein identified himself as having "taught at Northwestern University for 30 years" — and the university eventually responded.

In a statement, the Chicago-area university distanced itself from any associations with Epstein, calling his views "misogynistic."

"Joseph Epstein was never a tenured professor at Northwestern and has not been a lecturer here since 2002," the university said.

"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. or an M.D.," the statement continued. "Northwestern is firmly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and strongly disagrees with Mr. Epstein's misogynistic views."

Northwestern also removed Epstein's profile from its website. Earlier on Saturday, Epstein was identified as an "emeritus lecturer" at Northwestern.

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