Editor’s note: this story was updated Dec. 19.
An English professor at Northern Virginia Community College since 2009, Dr. Jill Biden tried to keep a low profile when her husband was vice-president. But the spotlight has grown more intense since Joe Biden won the White House.
Hardly a day has passed since Election Day without media attention directed toward Dr. Biden, much of it focused on her plan to be a very different type of U.S. First Lady by continuing her professional career.
Much of the publicity is positive, but an Op-Ed by conservative essayist Joseph Epstein posted last Friday by the Wall Street Journal, immediately drew widespread criticism. Here’s an excerpt of the Epstein commentary:
“Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name? “Dr. Jill Biden” sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title “Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.” A wise man once said that no one should call himself “Dr.” unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.”
For the record, professor Biden earned two master’s degrees in addition to her Ed.D. Epstein claims to have earned a B.A. degree, an honorary doctorate, and he was a lecturer at Northwestern University.
Spokespersons for the Biden’s immediately labelled the Epstein essay “patronizing, sexist, elitist drivel,” and a “disgusting and sexist attack.” Numerous figures in politics and academia spoke out in defense of Biden and others who have earned academic honors, generating coverage in most of the nation’s biggest media outlets, including the New York Times, USAToday, Washington Post, FOX News, NBC News, ABC News, CNN, NPR, and others.
Northwestern’s decision to distance itself from the Epstein essay and purge his name from its website sparked its own flap.
Sunday evening, Jill Biden tweeted, “Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished.” (Her Twitter handle, by the way is “@DrBiden.”)
“It was such a surprise.” Jill Biden opened up a bit more about the controversy during an interview Thursday night on CBS’s A Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Referring to the Epstein column, Dr. Biden said, “It was really the tone of it, you know, he called me ‘kiddo.’ One of the things I’m most proud of is my doctorate, I worked so hard on it.”
Noting that his wife already had a pair of master’s degrees, Joe Biden said, “I said, ‘Jill, why don’t you get a doctorate and make us some real money?’ She gets the doctorate, and a two-thousand dollar raise!”
Others, meanwhile, wasted no time capitalizing on the controversy by selling t-shirts mocking Epstein’s essay.
Fund-raising designs from Charlotte Clymer and Chasten Buttigieg benefited the NOVA Educational Foundation through the custom t-shirt website bonfire.com.
By Thursday morning, the website had taken orders for more than 6,000 t-shirts, raising almost $68,000, so far.
The NOVA Foundation made it clear it was not involved in either the controversy from the Op-Ed, or the t-shirt fund-raisers. But there’s no doubting the episode has raised NOVA’s public profile.