The real scandal around Joe Biden’s second wife wanting to be called “Dr. Jill Biden” is not that people like Whoopi Goldberg incorrectly assume that she is a physician and recommend her for the position of surgeon general. The real scandal is that the title is handed out to people who can’t produce scholarly work, as exemplified by the pathetic “dissertation/executive position paper” that Jill Biden “submitted to the Faculty of the University of Delaware in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education with a major in Educational Leadership.”
The problems with the 33,000-word document begin on the title page with the label “dissertation/executive position paper.” Why the hedging with two labels? Back in the late 1970s, when I researched and wrote my 1978 Ph.D. thesis, I was told that the criterion was an original contribution to scholarly knowledge. (Strangely, I can find no reference to this concept in the latest guidelines published by Harvard for the Ph.D. degree, much less for the Ed.D.) I suppose that calling her essay an “executive position paper” entirely disposes of the requirement of actual production of knowledge.
As it happens, no less an authority than her husband went on the record as to the real motivation for Mrs. Biden wanting to acquire a doctorate, and it wasn’t any devotion to expanding the body of scholarly knowledge, or even writing an executive position paper. Robin Abcarian of the Los Angeles Times wrote in early 2009:
Joe Biden, on the campaign trail, explained that his wife’s desire for the highest degree was in response to what she perceived as her second-class status on their mail.
“She said, ‘I was so sick of the mail coming to Sen. and Mrs. Biden. I wanted to get mail addressed to Dr. and Sen. Biden.’ That’s the real reason she got her doctorate,” he said.
She wanted the title in order to appear highfalutin’. That helps explain the fury over Joseph Epstein’s essay suggesting that she stop using the title.
But the door has been opened to examine the basis of that title, no matter how much huffing and puffing over sexism and lèse-majesté the propaganda media dish out. You can read the whole thing yourself here, but you could just rely on the Twitter thread by Matt Bethlehemanti, who uncovered the online copy, or the critique of it by Nick Arama, published in RedState. There are lots of embarrassments in it, enough to raise questions about the university and faculty members who thought it worthy of the exalted title of “doctor.” Kyle Smith of National Review offers a theory of why it was accepted:
Mrs. Biden wanted the credential for its own sake. As for its quality, well. She got it from the University of Delaware, whose ties to her husband, its most illustrious alumnus if you don’t count Joe Flacco, run so deep that it has a school of public policy named after him. That the University of Delaware would have rejected her 2006 dissertation as sloppy, poorly written, non-academic, and barely fit for a middle-school Social Studies classroom (all of which it is) when her husband had been representing its state in the U.S. Senate for more than three decades was about as likely as Tom Hagen telling Vito Corleone that his wife is a fat sow on payday. The only risk to the University of Delaware was that it might strain its collective wrist in its rush to rubber-stamp her doctoral paper. Mrs. Biden could have turned in a quarter-a**ed excuse for a magazine article written at the level of Simple English Wikipedia and been heartily congratulated by the university for her towering mastery. Which is exactly what happened.
By Autry Pruitt