Recently I have been slammed by a certain reputation management company (who apparently has an axe to grind with ACT) and charged with being a “hypocrite” because I use the titles Dr or PhD and yet encourage people to challenge authority. These are two completely different things. The fact that I use the title “Dr” or “PhD” which I worked very hard to earn in a fully accredited institution, does not mean that I am a hypocrite if I criticize certain others who happen to also hold a doctorate degree and urge people to challenge authority.
On the contrary, part of my PhD training was to think critically and not just automatically accept something just because someone with an advanced degree says so. It does not make me a hypocrite to criticize someone else who has a PhD. The process of getting a PhD from a rigorous program is all about learning how to challenge authority and think critically.
It would only be hypocritical if I maintained that people should just blindly trust me because I have a PhD and I have never done that — that attitude runs contrary to everything I have ever stood for. I do not use my titles to convey the message that people should just unquestioningly accept anything I have to say because I am an “authority”. I use them because these are titles that I have worked very hard to earn and deserve to use them and I am addressed as “Dr” in any formal professional situation (for example, at conferences) I have been in, since defending my dissertation and earning my PhD.
That being said, I have never, ever, asked my students or anyone else to just take my word for anything and I have never graded a student down for disagreeing with me on a topic. In fact, I have been known to give students A’s on papers if the paper was well written and well argued even if they took a position I disagreed with. By the same token, if a student turns in a poorly written, poorly argued paper who happens to agree with me, I will still give such a student a low grade. In other words, I grade students on the actual quality of their work, not on whether or not they agree with me.
So yes, I will continue to use the titles I have earned and make no apology for doing so and I will continue to encourage people to challenge authority and not just blindly accept something just because someone with a PhD or other form of doctorate said so. Anyone who has actually been through a good PhD program understands that the two are entirely compatible.