Jun 102005

That’s right, I’ve found them on the web for as much as $2,600 and as little as $40. Now of course, you’d say, why would anyone want an "Honorary" doctoral degree…heck, an honorary degree really doesn’t mean anything. Then I’d have to answer that, according to the Bishop of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, it means more than an academic degree one earns.

In a previous post, I wrote about the recent appointment of an ill-qualified pastor for my church. He has already visited the church, and was introducing himself as "Dr. Kevin James." I happened to be in the church office just prior to the service when he arrived, and he most definitely introduced himself to me as Dr. James. However, in looking over the biography supplied by the Conference, I noticed the only mention of an advanced degree was an Honorary Degree from Bethune Cookman College where Rev. James had served as Chaplain prior to being appointed to the post as District Superintendent. Realizing that most people in "polite society" actually use the "Dr." title based on an honorary degree when they have an ego issue, I asked the Bishop for a clarification…to be sure some important part of Rev. James academic background had not been left out.

The Bishop confirmed that Rev. James’ only advanced degree was the honorary degree from Bethune Cookman, which he claimed allows Rev. James to use the title, "on some of his official correspondence." He went on to try to claim that he didn’t think Rev. James actually used the title, and certainly didn’t expect people to refer to him as "Dr. James." (This despite him having introduced himself to everyone as "Dr. James.") In a further effort to justify his appointment and defend this guy, the Bishop went on to say:

"I do think that it is appropriate for persons with honorary degrees to use the title in certain formal ways. I have observed both clergy and laity in Virginia and Florida do this as an expression of the bond that exists between the person and the institution. For example, I have regular contact with lay persons who use the honorary title granted to them by Florida Southern College. Sometimes I think achievement in life that is recognized by an institution is more telling than the acquisition of another academic degree."

So, it seems to me his is pretty much attempting to get me to believe that Rev. James’ honorary degree is more prestigious than a hard-earned advanced academic degree. Man, what a bunch of malarky….who appointed this guy Bishop?

Being that I hate people who think they are smarter than me, and think they can get away with giving me some gigantic line of bullshit to get me to shut up. I responded to the Bishop with the following:

Dear Bishop Whitaker:

I was born and raised in the south, and am proud of my Southern Heritage. From it comes a deep respect for politeness and manners. I think it’s a significant portion of the fabric that holds together society. I believe it is important for the Church to encourage people to follow the rules of common courtesy.

One of the results of my upbringing is having a heavy southern drawl. Again, it is something for which I’m actually rather proud, as many people find it calming and often times charming. The down-side of such a pronounced drawl is that some people jump to the conclusion that one is slow or ignorant. I assure you, I’m neither of those, and I resent it when people come to that conclusion. I believe you are one of those people.

Your response to my inquiry concerning Rev. James’ use of the “Dr.” title pretty clearly states that you believe his honorary degree is somehow more meaningful than an earned degree that recognizes academic achievement. I would disagree with you, and in an impromptu survey of the people I know who have advanced academic degrees, there is general agreement that they do not appreciate people assuming the title based on an honorary degree. I think your response was designed more as an excuse than a response, and I believe you assumed I would take it at face value. Rev. James did introduce himself directly to me as "Dr. James," and not "Kevin", as you note below.

Given that my survey was somewhat unscientific, I wanted to support my position. I did some research, and received the following response from the Emily Post Institute. In case you are not familiar with Emily Post, she is generally considered the leading authority on matters of etiquette and manners.

Dear John Masters,

Thank you for writing The Emily Post Institute.

You asked the following question: 
To Whom It May Concern:

Is it considered appropriate for a person to use the title Doctor (Dr.), if their only post-graduate degree is honorary?

My question is related more to everyday use rather than formal addressing.

Thank you for any help. I did try to search you website prior to asking.

We are pleased to provide you with the following answer.

The title ‘ Dr.’ is not used before the names of those who hold honorary degrees only. References to honorary degrees must specify the degree was honorary.

The Emily Post Institute

I hope that in light of this information, and to honor the church’s need to participate appropriately in polite society, you would discourage those pastors who have only an honorary degree from using the title inappropriately. Also, I hope our relationship can become more amicable, and that I can count on you to not sell me quite so short in the future. I take my church life rather seriously, and expect the leaders of my denomination to respond with an equal level of seriousness.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. 

Sincerely yours,

So I’ve come up with a great idea. I’m going to try to get everyone in the church to send away for an honorary doctoral degree. I’m guessing we can probably even negotiate a lower rate than $40 if we buy in bulk. Then we can all be "Dr’s".

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