Dr. Jill Biden
Why does the Second Lady insist on using the title "Dr."
LAT has an odd feature under the headline “Jill Biden, doctor of education, is back in class” with the subheads “The vice president’s wife, who holds a doctorate in education and has been teased for going by ‘Dr. Biden,’ is teaching two college classes. Biden is thought to be the first second lady to hold a paying job while her husband is in office.” The nut ‘graph:
In 2007, at 55, Jill Biden did earn a doctorate — in education — from the University of Delaware. Since then, in campaign news releases and now in White House announcements, she is “Dr. Jill Biden.” This strikes some people as perfectly appropriate and others as slightly pompous, a quality often ascribed to her voluble husband.
Media Matters’ Jamison Foser thinks the LAT is taking a “cheap shot” at Biden and does an able job deconstructing the fluff. Dr. Marcy Wheeler likes to use the title when restaurant hostesses and “fatuous old men” fail to respect her authoritay. Dr. Duncan Black offers crude suggestions for the articles’s author.
For what it’s worth, the use of the title “Dr.” by academics varies widely by region. I used it in my teaching because it was the norm in the South. In some other parts of the country, “Professor” is preferred; in the South “Professor” is generally used to refer to teaching staff without doctoral degrees. In some departments, profs eschew titles altogether or use the affectation of having students call them “Mr.” despite their having doctorates.
In Biden’s case, her doctorate is in “educational leadership” and she’s teaching English classes on an adjunct basis at a community college. In my experience, academics with PhDs in other subjects find education doctorates, especially those in administrative specialties, rather dubious. That’s doubly so if they’re not college administrators. Using the title “Dr.,” which connotes a high degree of subject matter expertise, when one is teaching a subject in which one doesn’t have a doctorate, is a bit cheesy.
Still, she’s perfectly entitled to use the title. It’s a real doctorate from a real school. Further, the ink’s barely dry on it so she’s more proud of the title than if she’d earned it in her late 20s. And I’m guessing Joe Biden — who was the first in his family to go to college, and not because they weren’t smart — has something to do with its use in press releases.
For what it’s worth, the previous second lady, Lynne Cheney, had a PhD in English Literature from Wisconsin. I don’t recall her ever being referred to as “Dr. Cheney” in the press or White House press releases. But she’d already had a distinguished career in her own right, including a stint as NEH chair. She was a fellow at AEI while her husband was veep; I don’t know whether she was paid.