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Cancel Culture Fights for ‘Dr.’ Jill Biden

4 ½ min

A career as a writer offers many thrills as one piece after another gets picked up and published. Today, however, it also offers many nervous chills, as the specter of cancel culture could broadside a writer at any moment.

I experienced one of the former thrills of writing when a piece of mine was published several years ago alongside one by Joseph Epstein, a man whom I regarded then and now as one of America’s great living essayists. Half a dozen of his collections—A Literary EducationOnce More Around the Block, and others—are enthroned on my bookshelves, and I’ve read many of his other works. Though I can’t remember the subject of either of our articles, I do recollect the joy I felt finding myself in such grand company.

Unfortunately, Epstein is now experiencing the chill of cancel culture.

The 84-year-old writer and former teacher is under heavy fire for writing “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.” an article published in The Wall Street Journal questioning whether Jill Biden, Ed.D. should continue to call herself “doctor.” The essay prompted attacks from several quarters, including Northwestern University, where Epstein taught English literature for years. The same university that once granted Epstein an honorary doctorate has now wiped him from its website and condemned him for his “misogynistic views” while declaring itself “firmly committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

Epstein’s trouble began when he called into question the true value of a doctorate, noting that “the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards in university education generally” has reduced the prestige of a doctorate degree.

“Getting a doctorate was then an arduous proceeding,” writes Epstein, “One had to pass examinations in two foreign languages, one of them Greek or Latin, defend one’s thesis, and take an oral examination on general knowledge in one’s field.” This was especially the case at Columbia University where, once upon a time, “a secretary sat outside the room where these examinations were administered, a pitcher of water and a glass on her desk. The water and glass were there for the candidates who fainted.”

Epstein continues:

A far cry, this, from the few doctoral examinations I sat in on during my teaching days, where candidates and teachers addressed one another by first names and the general atmosphere more resembled a kaffeeklatsch. Dr. Jill, I note you acquired your Ed.D. as recently as 15 years ago at age 55, or long after the terror had departed.”

Epstein is not loathe to work humor into this essay, poking fun at his own title of “Dr.”:  

During my years as a university teacher I was sometimes addressed, usually on the phone, as ‘Dr. Epstein.’ On such occasions it was all I could do not to reply, ‘Read two chapters of Henry James and get into bed. I’ll be right over.’

Despite the flack from cancel culture, Epstein still has at least one defender in Bruce Bawer over at City Journal. “On this matter, Epstein was, quite simply, right,” Bawer concludes. “Unfortunately for him, he decided to use Jill Biden as a hook for a thoughtful piece on an important issue. In retribution for that politically inadmissible choice, he’s now a non-person—at least in the eyes of Northwestern University.”

The only point in Bawer’s conclusion with which I disagree is that this is “an important issue.” Compared to other issues of our day, the “increasing meaninglessness of advanced degrees in the humanities and social sciences” is a sad fraud, but a trifle, as far as important issues go.

No—what’s important here is Northwestern University resorting to the now hackneyed, and formulaic “equity, diversity, and inclusion.” These words long ago lost their meaning. In fact, if we examine this threesome when joined together in this way, we spot contradictions. Can we simultaneously be equal and diverse? Can inclusion and diversity co-exist? If so, then why rap Joseph Epstein on the knuckles for his essay?

Equally important is the rapidity with which “cancel culture” attempts to destroy those it detests. At Epstein’s Wikipedia page, for example, someone has already added a section titled “Article on Jill Biden,” a two-paragraph piece knocking Epstein’s essay. Keep in mind that his essay appeared in print on Dec. 11, and by Dec. 16 someone had already attacked him through Wikipedia. Other comments in this Wikipedia article are also mostly critical of Epstein. Nowhere do the writers, whoever they are, say a word about the hundreds of brilliant, amusing essays this man has produced over the past 50 years.

For readers of Intellectual Takeout interested in meeting Joseph Epstein, I would suggest a recent collection, Wind Sprints, which contains his shorter essays. Here you will find a grand sampler of his humor, wit, and sparkling language.

And if by some slim chance you, Mr. Epstein, happen to read these words, please know that your books will continue to occupy the place of honor they deserve in my home library. Over the years, you have brought me laughter, smiles, and bits of wisdom, and have made me a better writer.

Thank you, sir.

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Image Credit: 

Ben Stanfield, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jeff Minick

Jeff Minick

Jeff Minick lives in Front Royal, Virginia, and may be found online at jeffminick.com. He is the author of two novels, Amanda Bell and Dust on Their Wings, and two works of non-fiction, Learning as I Go and Movies Make the Man.

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Rowana F
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I wish I could say I'm surprised at how quickly some people turned on him. I wonder whether they'd have been nearly so quick had he suggested that some man who held the same doctorate should not insist on being called "doctor"? It's just vanity on Jill Biden's part, she wants to be called Dr. Biden to make herself seem more special. If it were a highly rigorous degree from a tough school (math, science, engineering, physics, biochemistry, or even music, for examples), then being called "doctor" would seem a lot less pretentious or maybe not at all pretentious. Thanks for mentioning the author Joseph Epstein. I might try one of his books.
 
 

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sansme57
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I agree 100% with you on your writing about how quickly people have turned on famous people just because they don't agree with something they wrote. Okay fine, don't agree, but to publicly bash someone for their writing on their beliefs is hard (I use the word "hard" here in place of "ignorant," which is what most people these days seem to write about. Non-factual ignorance. In fact, when writing anything to do with blm (I refuse to capitalize the acronym) it wrenches my gut and makes me physically ill. My mind turns away when reading the word "woke" in describing anything other than speaking about being awake in the morning. I detest how that word is being used now. It sounds as though it's a word from some bad rap song. Let me change that to a word from any rap song, because in my opinion, they're all bad. I read in another article that it was voted to remove the names of all military bases that were named after someone in the confederacy. How utterly absurd! As for Jill Biden, she's a joke, but she does have a degree, however gotten, that in this days academic terms qualify her to have the title of Dr. I personally don't think an Ed.D. should have this title because I do know the difference in her title and a Ph.D. , the latter of which I am. Mine is in an engineering major and I did go through all the situations that were mentioned in this article. I digress. I will read some of the essays given in this article. Thank you for some good, intelligent reading material. It seems to be losing ground these days.
 
 

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Kalikiano
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I have to chuckle over this 'teapot controversy', but I can well recall an interesting personal, experience I had when sharing a co-ed student rooming house in the People's Republic of Berzerekely, back in 1970, with a female grad student who was working towards completing her doctorate (in a non-medical context, I believe it was also education). Every day the mail for all of us would arrive with her mail invariably addressed to 'Jane Doe'. Then, late in one semester, she suddenly began receiving letters addressed to 'Dr. Jane H. Doe'. There was no going back in terms of the social parameters and courtesies all of us were expected to observe from that point onwards and no one (not even close friends) was permitted to call her plain Jane any more; all of her peers were rather ostentatiously reminded that it was now 'Dr. Jane.' As a person from a medical background where the honorific 'Dr.' is regarded by custom as the preserve of those with a medical degree, I still reflect back on that experience with a big smile! :))
 
 

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J2289
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The crux of the matter is she's married to a socialist communist liar who has been paid millions of dollars by the Chinese communist party either directly to Joe himself or his son Hunter, or his brother Jim. Biden is a socialist crime family unto itself.
 
 

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clb3092
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Cancel culture is destined to consume itself. It's easy to be an arm chair critic in college. Millennials are quickly realizing that they will all be canceled out before they reach 30 if they don't back off. The main problem is this can't happen soon enough.
 
 

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