Recently, Joseph Epstein, an American author and former adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University, wrote an Op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal.
In the post, Epstein dismissively suggests that First Lady Elect Dr. Jill Biden drop the honorific she currently chooses to utilize. And, yes I specifically point out that it is her choice. She earned a PhD and has every right to add those two little letters before her name any time she wants.
What Is The Real Problem?
“fewer than 2% of the world’s population can claim a PhD”
That being said, I wonder if Mr. Epstein would have been better served to state his opinion without using the incoming first lady as the “hook”. I am going out on a limb. Extrapolating from his own words, additional articles written in support of Epstein, and opinions that condemn his piece in the WSJ, it sounds to me like Epstein’s beef is about the perceived deterioration of what it truly means to earn the title of “Doctor”.
Digging in deeper, I read that Epstein was directing his criticism at what he perceives to be the increasing meaninglessness of advanced degrees in the humanities and social sciences. The notion is that, in today’s world, PhDs are handed “out like free-drink tickets outside of strip clubs.”
That statement alone stirs up controversy, especially amongst the doctoral elite. And elite it truly is — fewer than 2% of the world’s population can claim a PhD. So even if it created a rigorous uprising, most of us wouldn’t notice. And maybe there’s merit to the notion that not all PhDs are created equally. One worth exploring by those who are responsible for the machinations of earning a doctoral degree. I certainly have zero expertise on the matter.
Out Of Touch With The Current Zeitgeist:
What I want to talk about is that I think it was poor judgement on Epstein’s part to bait us with our new first lady. To me, it shows an inability to read the current zeitgeist. These are “sensitive” times. Between the recent #metoo fallout which brought down some members of the male elite, the bright light on our globe’s systemic racism, and on the heels of one of the most polarizing U.S. elections in which the first woman was elected to the White House, sensitivities are on steroids.
“We are making strides and I especially see it in the younger generations.”
Is it too simplistic to note that Epstein is an 84-year-old white male? If we look up “stereotype” in Mirriam-Webster’s will we find his photo?
I know all too well that this may stir up some anger but why give Epstein our energy and attention? To me it’s clear that his time has passed. The mere fact that he refers to Dr. Biden as “kiddo” glaringly showcases how out of touch with the times he truly is. And not to be cruel, but the fact of the matter is that he is running out of time.
We are working diligently to raise awareness and to alter ingrained behaviors that negatively impact our sisters and brothers. Never before has there been this much light and noise on equality (race, gender, sexual orientation). We are making strides and I especially see it in the younger generations.
Mr. Patriarch, Your Time Has Passed:
I don’t know Mr. Epstein personally and therefore my “bias” is completely founded on the data points of his age, sex, and race. Oh, and the words he chose to submit to the Wall Street Journal. But, it makes me want to say: “Mr. Epstein — your time has passed.”
And it’s unfortunate. I know that not all individuals in Epstein’s demographic are stuck in the past. To me it’s pretty simple. You can bring to light a perceived chink in the armor of another human, or you can turn the spotlight on what you believe to be systemic failings in the institution. The first one typically creates turmoil and often-times backlash. If you don’t believe me just go check out Northwestern’s website. Even though Mr. Epstein has not taught in over 20 years, the University issued a disclaimer and a resounding public scolding. The second option, can catalyze innovation, shift a conversation, and create a sea change for good.
P.S. Photo credit goes to my son, Aidan. @throughaidanseye