The gremlin and the EdD | On Culture | Chicago Reader

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The gremlin and the EdD

She earned the title—still he was dissing her! Would he do the same to, say, Dr. Kissinger?

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Two weeks before Christmas

In a treacherous year

With POTUS and virus

When who should appear

But a tiny old gremlin

Named Joseph Epstein

Who bullied Jill Biden

Just to be mean.

‘Don’t call yourself Doc’

The gremlin did bray

Putting her down

In the WSJ . . .

Forgive me. Too much time in my own company, desperate for amusement. And this was definitely amusing—Epstein, popping up out of the slow gray end to this nasty year to call out our soon-to-be First Lady. For what? / Being uncool / Revealing himself / As the much greater fool.

OK, I’m stopping now.

Jill Biden earned a doctorate in education; Epstein earned no advanced degree, but saw fit, in a December 11 Wall Street Journal opinion piece, to let her know that “A wise man once said that no one should call himself ‘Dr.’ unless he has delivered a child [italics mine].” Sage advice that neatly eliminates anyone who has actually delivered a child, by, you know, bearing it. Which Biden has also done.    

Epstein, who wrote a whole book on snobbery, attempted to demean Biden’s community college research and career, while noting that he taught at Northwestern University for 30 years without anything more than a University of Chicago B.A. The latter part’s true: I remember the consternation among graduate students there when Northwestern hired him, in the 1970s, on the heels of another notorious essay, this one in Harper’s Magazine, in which he opined that homosexuality is a curse that causes such pain, it would be better wiped “off the face of the earth.”

Northwestern had more tolerance for provocation then than it does now. A day after the WSJ essay was published, NU issued an official distancing statement, declaring that “Joseph Epstein has not been a lecturer at Northwestern since 2003,” and that the university “strongly disagrees with Mr. Epstein’s misogynistic views.”

The English department, in which he taught for so long, was moved to issue its own statement, rejecting Epstein’s “unmerited aspersion” on Biden’s “rightful claiming of her doctoral credentials,” and describing him as “a former adjunct lecturer who has not taught here in nearly 20 years.”

Then they wiped him off their online list of emeritus faculty.

So long, 2020

In the two short months last winter before the virus hit, I saw three operas and wrote about them for the Reader: Madama Butterfly and The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera, and Dan Shore’s Freedom Ride, a Chicago Opera Theater presentation at the Studebaker. I’ve always known that it’s a privilege to have a seat at the opera, but now, looking back at those productions through the long tunnel of the virus shutdown, they shimmer—alive with sound and presence. We didn’t pay attention then—in the moment, we hardly ever do—but it was a golden time.  

In the 1990s, Sarah Bryan Miller (or Bryan Miller, as she was known then), often had the Reader seat at classical concerts. A member of the Lyric Opera Chorus, and an alum of Lyric’s young-artist training program, she had a professional’s deep knowledge of the music, a discerning ear, wide-ranging interests, and—when she wanted it—a wicked pen. She went on to become the much-loved classical music critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and is among the many people we lost this year. On November 28, Miller died of cancer she’d been fighting for a decade. The Reader archive is fortunate to have a trove of more than 100 of her memorable pieces on music and more.    

Wishing you a healthy new year; hoping we’ll soon be back at the opera, theater, galleries, museums, shops, restaurants, and venues of all kinds that make Chicago so great.  v

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