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Wall Street Journal draws backlash over op-ed urging Jill Biden, Joe Biden’s wife, to drop ‘doctor’ title

Several public figures and others on Twitter are condemning The Wall Street Journal for an op-ed published Friday that suggested incoming first lady Jill Biden should “drop the ‘Dr.’” before her name, with some saying the piece was “trash” and “misogynistic.”

The op-ed, written by essayist and short-story writer Joseph Epstein, argues that “‘Dr. Jill Biden’ sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic” and opens by addressing President-elect Joe Biden’s wife as “Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo.” 

“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,’” Epstein writes. “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,” the writer adds. 

By Saturday afternoon, “Joseph Epstein” and “Dr. Biden” were the No. 1 and No. 3 top trending topics on Twitter in the U.S.

In the opinion piece, Epstein, who currently serves as an emeritus lecturer of English at Northwestern University, noted that he “taught at Northwestern University for 30 years without a doctorate or any advanced degree.” 

“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 argues. 

“As for your Ed.D., Madame First Lady, hard-earned though it may have been, please consider stowing it, at least in public, at least for now,” Epstein concludes. “Forget the small thrill of being Dr. Jill, and settle for the larger thrill of living for the next four years in the best public housing in the world as First Lady Jill Biden.” 

Several people, from medical doctors and Ph.D. holders to political figures, took to Twitter to criticize Epstein’s argument. 

Chasten Buttigieg, husband of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, tweeted Saturday, “The author could’ve used fewer words to just say ‘ya know in my day we didn’t have to respect women.’” 

The author could’ve used fewer words to just say “ya know in my day we didn’t have to respect women.” https://t.co/jr9hICPzV4— Chasten Buttigieg (@Chasten) December 12, 2020

Fellow education scholars also came to Jill Biden’s defense, with Ebony Elizabeth Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education writing, “President and Dr. Biden will be how they are addressed. Period.”

President and Dr. Biden will be how they are addressed. Period.— Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (@Ebonyteach) December 12, 2020

A waste of column space. After calling Dr. Biden kiddo & dismissing her dissertation on support for community college education, we have to endure a long brag because the author took his final exam on a pool table on a military base. Tired of the misogyny. https://t.co/M2UjbVsp9h— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) December 12, 2020

Multiple users holding medical degrees also vocalized their support for Jill Biden to use the title of doctor, including Cathleen London, a family medicine physician from Maine. 

“Dr. Biden can absolutely use her honorific,” London tweeted. “It was not bestowed upon her, she earned it. Those of us with MD will not suffer for her using it.” 

Mr. Epstein is clearly making up for something. Dr. Biden can absolutely use her honorific. It was not bestowed upon her, she earned it. Those of us with MD will not suffer for her using it. #misogynist much? https://t.co/jqFCtIRyt7 via @WSJ— Cathleen London MD (@DrChaya) December 12, 2020

I am appalled and unsurprised that the ⁦@WSJ⁩ would print this trash.

She is Dr. Biden, First Lady-to-be, give her the respect she deserves. https://t.co/GYZUknPVBm— Dara Kass, MD (@darakass) December 12, 2020

The Hill has reached out to The Wall Street Journal for comment. 

Jill Biden, who has worked as an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College since 2009, has indicated that she plans to continue teaching even as first lady. 

“If we get to the White House, I’m gonna continue to teach,” she told “CBS Sunday Morning” in August. “It’s important, and I want people to value teachers and know their contributions, and lift up the profession.”

She also reportedly plans to use her background in education to influence her platform as first lady, with a close source telling Yahoo News earlier this month that she plans to advocate for debt-free community college once she moves into the White House.

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