Have Respect for Ph.Ds: Heroes of Academia
Submitted by Dr. Hollis ‘’Chalkdust’’ Liverpool, ORTT
For years I have longed to write an article on what it means to hold a doctorate from an accredited university, but neglected so to do, since I too hold one from the University of Michigan, currently ranked as No. 22 among universities of the world. However, when during the last election campaign, I heard campaigners referring to our Prime Minister as Rowley, Growley, Rothweiller, the Bull dog, Keith, Bald Head, Black man, Oreo and Blank man, I felt that such names were totally rude, crude and disrespectful, for a person who holds a doctorate from the world of accredited universities.
The young aspirants to parliamentary office who refer to Dr. Rowley in such a degrading manner don’t seem to know that to hold a doctorate means that the holder is the product of extensive, original research and has contributed handsomely to his/her field of education. Moreover, most of these rude and crude campaigners have never written an academic paper, far more for a dissertation. A Ph.D. means, in Latin, a Doctor of philosophy and is the highest accredited title awarded by universities the world over. Holding a Ph.D., means that the holder has demonstrated competence and mastery of his/her subject matter, and has been supervised by a team of specialized consultants in his/her field of research. Philosophy comes from the Greek terms Philo and Sophia meaning the ‘’love of wisdom’’ and, as a discipline, it comprises at its core, logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and Lloyd Best’s favourite subject: epistemology (the nature and scope of knowledge). It therefore means that Dr. Rowley has studied, profusely, fundamental problems connected with geography and geology, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Patrick Manning held a bachelor’s degree from UWI; he studied geology. Dr Rowley holds a doctorate in geology; he is a geologist. Note the difference.
Now, for the records, how does a person acquire such a doctoral award? First, universities at their lowest level, after the completion of certificates, diplomas and associate degrees, award undergraduate or bachelor’s degrees: (B.A. and B.S.). These require four years of study and approximately 120 credit hours of work. Associate degrees/diplomas are usually awarded by community colleges after a two-year study and, on the ladder of education, holders are seen generally as having reached a level just below an accredited bachelor’s degree. It must be noted that MDs in medicine and JDs in law are all undergraduate degrees, even though we have the tendency to call such holders, doctors.
After gaining a bachelor’s degree, a student may opt for a master’s degree which is gained after at least two years of further study and the writing of an original research project or thesis. Such students may specialize in particular areas of study and thus gain specialized awards such as an M.A.; MBA; M.Ed.; or MS.
Should a student want to further his/her study, he or she may go on to do doctoral work for at least four to eight more years-some schools demand six to ten years-and gain the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) award or the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.). This latter degree (Ed.D.) is usually a practitioner’s degree and focuses on how theory can be applied to solving problems. It is accepted by most universities and institutions as being a little lower than the Ph.D., which is research-oriented and emphasises the testing of theories and the discovery of new and original knowledge. Both doctoral awards, however, are granted to persons who are expected to become future leaders in their fields of teaching, doctoral supervision, and professors at university level.
One of the reasons why Ph.Ds are usually given more acclaim than Ed.Ds and the degree is seen as the most prestigious of all is the fact that holders of such degrees have to write and defend their dissertations. (A few Ed.Ds such as those in Canada have to also write dissertations). A dissertation is the highest and mightiest form of writing for any writer in this whole wide world, a fact that many of the institutions and companies who award prizes annually to writers and poets in Trinbago do not know. To write a dissertation requires the mastery of research methods, the review of all the literature on the subject, the methodology that is appropriate for researching the subject and knowledge and application of the issues of validity and reliability that are linked to the approaches used in the research. Reliability refers to the consistency of a measure and validity refers to its accuracy. Small wonder that only 15% of postgraduates in the world of academia move on to do doctoral work which calls for a comprehensive examination before writing a dissertation in most universities. Hence many doctoral students who do not complete their studies are called ABDs, meaning, folks with ‘’All But Dissertations.’’
Besides one’s own dissertation, doctoral students must study the theories of others. While I was studying at Michigan, for example, I was made to study and discuss in class the dissertation of Dr. Eric Williams’ ‘’Capitalism and Slavery,’’ it being recognized by the university as a masterpiece in historical content, literature review, scientific research- methods, meticulous documentation and good, grammatical writing style. Coming from Trinidad and Tobago, I had an advantage over all the doctoral students, for most of them had never heard of Dr. Williams. I thus became the specialized model at the school for thesis writing, and I was highly acclaimed by the university for I had not only seen and discussed matters of interest with Dr. Eric Williams, but had the temerity to attack him in song. My supervisors wanted to find out, therefore, who I was and what educational degree had given me the authority to attack a writer of such a superb dissertation. But therein lies the power of the calypso, which I shall write about in the future.
Today, any doctoral student at Michigan, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Oxford must, as part of the programme, study the work of Dr. Eric Williams. Therein lies one of the reasons why in the field of the Humanities these universities (Stanford, MIT, Harvard, CIT (California) and Oxford) are ranked as the top five universities of the world. In addition, doctoral students at such universities have to first pass an Ethics examination, whereby their values as students are tested to see whether they are fit and proper persons to carry the accolade of a Ph.D., from these noble institutions. I had to undergo such an examination at Michigan; it has set me apart educationally from lower-levelled universities such as those that sell degrees to students. It is a fact, Mr Editor, that many degree mills exist in the world today and they sell doctoral degrees to many, including one or two of our own politicians, some of whom ended up in Parliament. Imagine the Speaker having to call these merchants ‘’Doctah.’’ It leads me to remember that one evening years ago in Barbados, the MC in a calypso show, seemingly searching for humour, asked me if I found my doctorate in a garbage bag. On the very next day, Madam Mia Mottley, now Prime Minister, as well as the Nation and Advocate newspapers called upon him to apologize to me on their front pages. Joke is joke but Ph.D is no joke. Barbadians understand the hard and steep climb to attain it; many Trinis do not.
The result of that ethics test at top universities can be simply stated as follows: Woe beyond to the student who in that ethics exam refers to Dr. Eric Williams as Bill, Eric, or Williams; without possessing the value of recognizing Ph.Ds, their applications for doctoral degrees would be immediately rescinded. In a similar way, we must demand that the said woe should be bestowed upon Trinbago’s parliamentarians and would-be politicians, some of whom can’t pass O’ level CSEC, but refer to Dr. Rowley as Rowley, Keith, Blank man, Bald Head and Stink Mouth, when in fact Drs. Williams and Rowley are recognized and known in the world of academia as progenitors of doctoral dissertations.