In a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece, an author and columnist took the future first lady of the United States to task for calling herself Dr. Jill Biden. In mansplaining terms, he basically said that only someone who has delivered a baby has the “right” to be called doctor, that her doctorate of education – an Ed.D. – was not a rigorous enough credential, and that she should be satisfied with being Mrs. Biden. Needless to say, his views have resulted in a storm of social media opinions.
This opinion reflects a generally popular notion that only medical doctors should be called doctor. Many of us in higher education run into this notion on a regular basis. And sadly, if you are a female, you are regularly relegated to second-class status. Since I represent a large number of men and women who have either the Ph.D. or Ed.D., and since I also have great respect for my colleagues at Victoria College who also experience this, I wanted to respond briefly and nonpolitically.
To begin with, the term “doctor” comes from the Latin word for “teacher.” Universities were developed during medieval times, and the bachelor’s degree came first. Getting an education was one of the only ways someone not of “noble birth” could move up in the world. In fact, once the concept of a doctoral degree was developed, the only person in the world who could bestow it was the Pope.
That was how important the degree was considered to be at the time. And, at the time, it was not applied to the medical profession. It would be another few hundred years before the term “doctor” would become more closely identified with the medical field.
When doctoral degrees were first developed, the impact of receiving that education was life changing. So important was education that the term for a teacher, which was doctor, became a highly honored designation. There was once no confusion about how important teachers and education were to people. When you attend a commencement ceremony, we still are celebrating the life-changing nature of education.
I want to be clear; I am NOT saying that medical doctors don’t deserve the honor of being called doctor because obviously they do. They are life savers. But teachers save lives as well. The author of the WSJ opinion piece seeks to establish a false dichotomy. He suggests that holders of the Ed.D. and Ph.D. are pretentious when they use the designation of doctor. He suggests that my colleagues are not worthy of the honor.
I see my colleagues at UHV and VC change the lives of students on a daily basis. I see how much the lives of our students, and consequently their families, are enhanced by the degrees they earn here. Physicians are experts in their fields, and they save lives.
Thank God for physicians. Teachers, the original bearers of the title doctor, change lives every day. (I would point out the obvious here – no one ever became a physician without liberal exposure to teachers.) Thank God for teachers. Why are we wasting time trying to draw distinctions when we can accomplish so much more together than we ever can separately?
I wish Dr. Jill Biden all the success she can achieve in her current role of educator and in her future role as first lady. Both roles have significance and are important to our country.