A “Letter” to Mr. Joseph Epstein

The uproar in recent days over Jill Biden’s use of the honorific “Dr.” in front of her name is surprisingly distracting from much more important issues in the world. The following “open letter” (a designation I typically despise) asks a crucial question: Who cares?

Dear Mr. Joseph Epstein,

As an ordained minister, I was regularly listed in the bulletin or on the church sign as “Rev. Tom LeGrand.” I never insisted on being called this and I certainly did not correct those who did not use the formal title. In fact, the youth group got a kick out of calling me “PREACHER Tom,” a not uncommon title in a country church. 

But everyone in the church and the town knew that I was an ordained minister. They knew I was called to the purpose of ministry

My denomination could pretty much ordain a ham sandwich if some church chose to do it (although my particular church required a Master of Divinity). The process is not an excruciating academic endeavor, as it is for other denominations.

Yet, it mattered to the church to add the title “Reverend” to my name. It designates that the congregation believes I am called to a special and particular purpose, as a minister of the Gospel.

As I read with interest your op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal concerning the soon-to-be First Lady, I wondered how I would have felt if the church said my ordination did not matter. How would I take it if they were offended to recognize that calling to pastor their church, preside over the Ordinances, or baptize their children?

I do not really know how demanding Jill Biden is that others put “Dr.” in front of her name. But the essential question really is: who cares? More to the point, why do you care?


Why does it bother you if people refer to her as “Doctor” or if she asks them to do so?

Could this be more of a “you” problem than a “her” problem?

Listen, we all get it, okay? WSJ is a publication that is in the business to make a profit. They look for articles that are great click-bait, and you did your job well—so well that your degrading, demeaning, and insulting approach demands a response.

You referred to the future First Lady as “Kiddo.” I am only thankful that you restrained from something more demeaning or sexist. Not only did you insult Jill Biden, but you diminished everyone who invested the time, talent, and treasure to accomplish what you did not—an earned doctorate.

We are all sorry that certain institutions, selected fields, and dissertation titles are considered “unpromising” by you. Then again, you are not really qualified to make that judgment, are you? Because you do not have the credentials to do so.

Maybe that is the true problem here. Maybe it bothers you that a woman has rightfully earned a title that you do not have. Or maybe it bothers you that, after all those years as a lecturer at a world-renowned university, you still did not get to call yourself what everyone else did.

Maybe you are not at all so threatened or insecure, but your op-ed certainly made it sound as if you are.

Why would you feel that way? You spent 30 years lecturing at Northwestern University, in spite of a surprising lack of academic credentials. You were apparently so gifted that the institution did not insist on such credentials. To assail someone who DID get those credentials is, quite frankly, beneath you.

You chose, for whatever reason, not to pursue a higher degree. It was your call not to make the tremendous sacrifice that many others do to earn a doctorate (and it is indeed a sacrifice). Do not waste your time—or ours—by slinging mud at someone because they invested in a path that you did not.

Jill Biden has stated that she knew she was “home” when she went to work at the community college level. She chose to pursue an EdD because it was a calling, a belief that this was her designated place to make a difference. She then pursued a degree at a public institution of higher education that likely fit her calling more than Harvard or Princeton would. 

She deserves to be praised for following this passion. She certainly does not deserve to be demeaned for it, especially from someone who clearly has not read her dissertation or witnessed her work.

I agree that the standards for an earned doctorate are not what they once were. Universities have figured out that they can make money from people pursuing these degrees and are creating more pathways to fill their coffers. These are not the same as the PhD, but they are still personally demanding and academically rigorous.

I also agree that it seems a bit silly and arrogant for anyone to insist on being called “Doctor,” particularly in non-professional settings. However, it is no less silly or arrogant than your approach to the First Lady-to-Be, or others who have similar degrees.

In case you have not figured it out, I too have an EdD that would likely not meet your self-proclaimed “standards.” Then again, it really does not matter. My concern is proving myself to students, colleagues, editors, and those who task me with work inside of my field. Beyond that, I really do not understand why my title or how I choose to use it matters to anyone.

For me personally, I do not demand to be called “Doctor” or correct those who fail to use the honorific. I do ask my students to call me Dr. LeGrand because it matters, both in the classroom and in my profession. You of all people know that it matters.

I suspect it matters in Dr. Biden’s profession as well. I just cannot fathom why it matters so much to you or anyone else. If you are so outraged that she utilizes this honorific, maybe you need to take a deeper look at what this says about you.


Tom LeGrand

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