Abolish the Ph.D.!

I came across this today from Mortimer Adler:

Another demon we must exorcise is the Ph.D. degree. The Ph.D. degree has no ancient lineage. There were no Ph.D.s in the medieval universities. They had only four degrees. One was the teaching degree, the master of arts. The master was strictly a teacher, and he taught the same arts that the students were to learn, the liberal arts. The other three degrees were professional in nature: doctor of law, doctor of medicine, and doctor of theology. (Adler, “Reconstituting the Schools”)

He then explains the roots of the Ph.D. in German universities and why they don’t really have any meaning today.

He goes on, “Today there isn’t an actual doctor of philosophy in our country. There may be a few in the departments of philosophy, but for the most part they, too, are not philosophers. We don’t refer to someone as a “doctor of philosophy”; we say, “doctor of philosophy in [X]”.” 

Adler’s main complaint is that the Ph.D. is often taken to be one of a highly specialized degree of scholarship and a teacher. Hence, universities require their professors to have Ph.D.s. But anyone who’s been a part of a doctorate program knows, it in no way prepares you to be a teacher!  And I imagine many of us have suffered in college under professors who had no business being in a classroom.

Here’s what Adler recommends instead:

We ought to restructure the whole thing. We ought to have a “Sc.D.” which would stand of doctor of science of scholarship, and use that in place of the Ph.D., for all graduate degrees other than law, medicine, and theology. The Sc.D. would not signify a teacher at all. If we want to signify someone who is prepared to teach, and since the master of arts degree no longer means that, let us resuscitate the old degree (now an honorary degree) of L.H.D., the doctor of humane letters. (Ibid.)

Oh, and by the way, I found this in my reading for a doctorate class…


Mortimer J. Adler

6 comments on “Abolish the Ph.D.!

  1. But what of us lowly MFAs?

  2. ryankjones says:

    I agree. We should have Sc.D instead of Ph.D.

  3. khhsocratica says:

    I *so* agree (I find myself hard-pressed to not agree with Adler on most topics). When I was in grad school, I won a teaching award for outstanding efforts to reform teaching in our department (I taught several classes and was on a graduate student teaching committee). In my mind, when I was teaching, I was in no way going beyond the call of duty. I was merely doing the essentials of my job – but comparatively speaking, it was “award-winning.” As you say, our graduate program in no way prepared its students how to teach – they were thrown in to a classroom with no preparation to flounder and to put in as little effort as they saw fit.

  4. Bill Isley says:

    It is true that the Ph.D. does not prepare one for the classroom, except for mastery of a certain, often all too limited, subject matter. I found that my education section of my B.A. history degree put me way ahead of others. I must say, however, that the only useful education course that I had was student teaching where we were taught about objectives, testing, teaching techniques, etc. The rest was incompetent educational dribble based upon Dewey and pop psychology or fashionable political causes.

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