What to call a Ph.D.?

What do you call a Ph.D. — when you’re being polite, that is? The JMU custom is to use “Dr.” But here is a well-tested rule I hope people will keep in mind as time goes by and customs change:

The more prestigious a university, the less frequently its Ph.D.-holders insist on being called “Dr.”

Insistence on the “Dr.” honorific is generally associated with Deep South universities where doctoral percentages were once much lower than they are now.

Partly out of my ambitions for JMU’s more prestigious future, therefore, I’d rather be called “Mr.” than “Dr.” None of this is related to any lack of pride in my own doctoral degree. I received a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia in 1980. I poured years of my life into it and I am proud to have earned that degree. At that very institution, I should note, Ph.D.-holders by custom are not generally referred to as “Dr.”

One more thing, about the non-doctoral degree holders on the faculty here at JMU: They are some of the best faculty members we have and they all have exceptional qualifications to be teachers and researchers here. Sometimes they are in a field where a master’s degree is considered the terminal degree; in other cases they have outstanding experience or other qualifications. To my way of thinking, there is no room for snobbery about degrees, here or anywhere.

For more on this, see Jay Nordlinger’s classic column. There he says in part, “The bulk of the Ph.D.’s I know balk at being called anything but ‘Mr.’ (or maybe ‘Professor,’ in the case of academics), believing that ‘Dr.’ has come to mean Marcus Welby*, and that’s about it. As for those who feel slighted when they are ‘Dr.’-less, all we can say is, ‘Ph.D., heal thyself.'”

(*Historical note: Marcus Welby was the name of a doctor in an old television series.)