What do you do when you disagree with an opinion?

In December, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial written by Joseph Epstein about Dr. Jill Biden’s title. Epstein wrote:

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.

Numerous replies were published stating that Epstein’s comments were sexist, paternalistic, and demeaning. The editorial page editor, Paul Gigot, explained at the end of his response that their style guide, the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, only uses the title Dr. for medical doctors. His defense for publishing Epstein’s editorial concluded:

If you disagree with Mr. Epstein, fair enough. Write a letter or shout your objections on Twitter. But these pages aren’t going to stop publishing provocative essays merely because they offend the new administration or the political censors in the media and academe.

Editorials are persuasive essays about current topics and social issues. The point of an editorial is to critique or praise a person or topic, raise awareness about an important matter, or encourage readers to take action. Editorials should include evidence that supports the opinion being advanced.

  1. You should read about, write about, and discuss provocative ideas. During your career as a student here at CMU, you will likely have an assignment to write a persuasive essay or give a persuasive speech, and you may encounter ideas with which you disagree. Persuasion skills are essential for your work and civic life. CMU’s undergraduate general education requirements include courses that explore “human experiences and achievements in order to understand the essential characteristics of the human condition and human values,” the “behavior of individuals, groups, and institutions,” and “forms of discrimination for groups within the United States.” People do not always agree about values. We must work hard to understand other people’s experiences and perspectives, which are just as valid as our own.
  2. Who controls access to information? According to Pew Research Center, newspaper publishing revenues decreased 62% between 2008 and 2018 due to declining print and digital readership. Decreased revenues resulted in layoffs and mergers. The newspaper publishing industry has experienced many mergers and acquisitions. Statistica reported that there are 1,279 daily newspapers, a decrease of 27% compared to 1970. Statistica also reported that the top two newspaper companies, News Media/Gate House and Gannett, combined published 260 newspapers, more than the next five largest companies combined. Why does this matter? Publishers have power to shape reader’s perceptions about information and people. They filter which news stories are published. Publishers also filter which books and scholarly articles are published. When there are fewer owners, the range of stories, ideas, and opinion pieces published can be severely reduced. How representative are newspapers? According to the ASNE Newsroom Diversity Survey, in 2019, in print and digital newsrooms combined, 21.9% of employees were people of color and 42% were women. In newsroom manager roles, 18.8% were people of color and 40% were women.
  3. Right versus right dilemmas are some of the trickiest problems you will experience in life. Short-term versus long-term. Individual versus community. Truth versus loyalty. Justice versus mercy. You don’t have to look too far or listen too long to realize these dilemmas occur every day in your personal and work life as well as in the national news. A great book about ethical decision making is Rushworth Kidder’s, How Good People Make Tough Choices. If you don’t have time to read it, read a summary or watch a video.
  4. Education matters. Degrees are meaningful. Why are you enrolled in college? What do you hope to do with your degree that you couldn’t do without it? A bachelor’s degree increases your ability to think critically, helps learn about yourself and the world, opens doors to career opportunities, and gives you greater economic stability. There may come a time in your career when you realize you need an advanced degree, which may cause a dilemma for you. Is it worth the short-term inconvenience and financial investment for the long-term benefits of advancing in your career or earning more? Should you put your educational needs before the needs of your family? A master’s degree means you have mastered the content of a particular discipline. (Perhaps it’s time to rename that degree.) Most of your professors have earned a doctorate. A Doctor of Philosophy degree prepares individuals to conduct research and discover new knowledge. A professional or clinical doctorate is aimed at practitioners or leaders in specific industries, such as medicine, law, and education.

Next time you hear or read something that doesn’t seem fair or accurate, ask questions. Doing so will help you learn more than simply reacting emotionally. Good decisions include a balance of emotional response and intellectual reasoning.

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