Who Should Be Called Dr.? Probably Not Jill Biden, Just as Lawyers Like Me Aren’t
I didn’t much care for the Wall Street Journal op-ed that said Jill Biden shouldn’t be referred to using the title “Dr.” Certainly calling a grown stranger (and especially the soon-to-be First Lady) “kiddo,” even as a joke, seems disrespectful; nor is her using the “Dr.” title “fraudulent” or “comic.”
Nonetheless, the view that Jill Biden should be called “Dr.” because she earned her Ed.D. strikes me as unsound, too.
As best I can tell, there have been two rival customs on such matters in American life. (I speak here solely of the U.S. customs.) Under the first, only people with M.D.s (or perhaps people with any doctorate in a medical field, such as dentists) are called “Dr.,” in those contexts that call for a title.
Under the second, people with Ph.D.s are called “Dr.” as well (at least if they so prefer). My sense is that this is the more common approach these days, though the matter seems unclear.
Now that leaves the question: What to call people who have other non-medical degrees that are labeled “doctorates”? The most common such degree is the one my wife and I have, as lawyers: A J.D., which means Juris Doctor. (Unlike in other fields, most law professors don’t have a Ph.D. or the rare specialized legal Ph.D. analogs, like a J.S.D.) And lawyers in America definitely don’t get called “Dr.”
Then there is the “Ed.D.” To my knowledge, there isn’t a fixed custom among the general public as to whether to call people with Ed.D.s “Dr.,” the way there is a fixed custom as to people with J.D.s (for whom, again, the answer is “no no no”). I assume there isn’t such a custom in part because Ed.D.s aren’t that common. There’s also the complication that Ed.D.s may differ at different institutions.
But at the University of Delaware, where Jill Biden got her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, the Ed.D. appears much more like a J.D. (or perhaps a M.S. or M.A.) than like a Ph.D. The Ph.D. program is a full-time 4-5 year program; the Ed.D. program is a part-time 3-4 year program. (Recall that a J.D. is generally 3 years full-time, though without at thesis; M.S.s and M.A.s tend to be 1½ to 2 years full-time, with a th
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