Debate Magazine


Posted on the 30 May 2014 by Markwadsworth @Mark_Wadsworth

From The New Republic
“Dr. Angelou,” which was repeated by many media outlets after she died, was willed by Ms. Angelou herself: Her website referred to her as “Dr. Angelou” and her Twitter handle was the unambiguous @DrMayaAngelou. Wake Forest University, where she taught for many years, colluded in this ruse, referring to her in its obituary as “civil rights activist and professor Dr. Maya Angelou.” When I called the school to ask why it went along with this misdirection, a spokesman told me, “That was her choice, to be called that.” 

Ms. Angelou did have numerous honorary doctorates, from Smith College, Mills College, Mount Holyoke College, Northeastern, Lafayette, Eastern Connecticut State—the list goes on. These degrees are given at commencements to lure big names to the ceremonies, impressing graduates and their parents. I have long thought little of this tradition; at Yale, my alma mater, honorary degree recipients pop onto campus, meet with administrators and a few students (student government presidents, that type), collect their degrees onstage, then leave. Paul Simon got an honorary doctorate in 1996, Paul McCartney in 2008—and neither graced us with a song. 

In any event, throughout academia, it is agreed that an honorary doctorate does not entitle one to call oneself “Dr.”
Actually, I think that technically speaking, an honorary doctorate does entitle you to call yourself "Dr". It's more that anyone who decides to do so is being a bit of a dick for doing it.
I only found out recently that a friend I've known for 20 years is a Dr (electronics engineering). But he rarely uses it except when doing conferences or on his CV.

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