For many years into my early adulthood, I explained to my extended and very practical family that I just wanted an impractical PhD so I could get good tables at restaurants by calling and making a reservation on Doctor Hayward. The family immediately got the joke. My grandfather, an eighth grade man who started the largest GM dealership in the LA area in the early postwar years, actually called restaurants and made reservations under the name “Dr. Schulz ”, provided he would get better tables and superior service.
I assume it worked as a martini-drinking, chain-smoking, chic silk suit in those days, though family history doesn’t record whether he tipped appropriately. I guess not. I know he put cheap whiskey in Chivas Regal bottles, which kept fooling partygoers who kept thinking about how Chivas Regal was the only whiskey to drink but couldn’t make out the cheap scream they were having her glass. (Another time I have to tell the story of Gramps and my father who launched fabricated weather balloon UFOs at a flying sauce convention held in the California desert in the late 1960s. Lots of martinis that night.)
I had almost forgotten all of this until the weekend of Joseph Epstein’s article in the Wall Street Journal berating alleged first lady Jill Biden for insisting on being called a “Doctor” for her Ed.D. degree. One would think that a US Senator and Vice President could get good restaurant tables without this claim. Imagine the places the Bidens can get now. (If they can find an open restaurant.) While no one in academia will admit it, an Ed.D degree is considered roughly the level of an MBA if that is the case. And how many lawyers require to be called a “doctor” because their degree is actually a “juris doctor”? “Sorry, your honor, but this is Doctor Dershowitz for you!” Yeah – not even that guy.
Leftist Identity Politics – and Biden’s Inner Circle – went to DefCon1 because of this insult from Doctor Jill Biden. Paul Gigot from the WSJ pushed himself back well in a column on Monday. Good for him.
For the record, I’m still a little embarrassed to be called just a professor, and on the rare occasions when someone has assumed to call me “Doctor Hayward” I usually reject the term. Hypothetical: Suppose “Doctor Biden” is dining in a restaurant for a while and a nearby restaurant is suddenly in need. The host calls out: “Is there a doctor in the house?” Will “Doctor” Jill Biden take the call? If I ever reserved a table under “Doctor” and someone suffocated, I would have to say, “Well, you see, I’m a Doctor of Philosophy, and as philosophy teaches, there is a time for that.” live and a time to die. . . ”
For what it’s worth, my classroom practice is emulating the old St. Johns / University of Chicago protocol in which I say “Mr. Hayward ”and all students are“ Mr. Smith ”or“ Ms. Jones. ”While this is a little difficult in the age of exponentially expanding pronouns, the point is that this level of formality treats students not only with unusual respect, but also one Baseline of seriousness in a sometimes chaotic and free flowing dialogue (at least in small seminars) and also conveys a certain kind of equality that is the fictional atmosphere of classical education. Students like it by the way. It’s a bit cold, you could I know very few professors (actually none) who insist on being called “Doctor” (To be fair, Henry Kissinger, who insisted on being called “Dr. Kissinger” when he was in 1969 in The Nixon White House is one of the authors of this claim. I am sure that a comparison to Kissinger will be some consolation to Jill Biden.)
Insisting that Jill Biden be labeled a “Doctor” is part of the insatiable neediness of many public figures. If that is what it takes for them to have self-esteem, then the paradox is obvious. Why not just go all the way and ask to be referred to with the German form “Doktor”? Fits Joe Biden’s general government ideology. Also, I bet the Bidens don’t tip well when “Doctor” Jill and The Thing We Know go out for dinner.