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What’s in a title and a degree?

Educational achievement is valuable in Philippine society.  Employers ask potential employees what they finished in school, or if they finished at all.  Newspapers herald the names of the annual bar examination topnotchers, their corresponding grades, and the law schools they came from.  Dramas on cinema and television, both vintage and contemporary, emphasize to the audiences the importance of finishing college. Diplomas are assigned a special place in the home, usually in the living room, especially in rural areas in the country. They are displayed together with trophies, medals and citations.

Sadly, many Filipinos are so obsessed with their academic accomplishments and their educational attainment that they go to extreme measures to flaunt them.

For instance, most lawyers insist on having the title “attorney” affixed to their names at all times, whether they are being addressed, or whether their names are mentioned in documents.  There are many physicians, engineers, architects, and accountants who share the same vanity and are consumed by the same infatuation with their titles.

Whenever these vain professionals give out presents, especially expensive ones, the greeting card accompanying the gift bears a professional title. Thus, the card indicates that the present is from “Doctor so-and-so” and “Engineer this-and-that.”The use of the title is unnecessary because the present was given by the gift-giver by reason of his generosity, and not in his capacity as a professional.  For example, a lawyer who sends a gift to his goddaughter does so not because he is a member of the Bar but because he is the godfather of the child.

Many doctorate degree holders in Philosophy are also notorious in this regard.  They insist that the letters “Ph.D.” must be added after their names, even if their doctorate came from some non-descript university, or even if their line of interest is largely forgettable or insignificant.  I know several such doctorate degree holders who want the letters Ph.D. affixed to their names every time, even in affidavits attesting to the loss of their driver’s license or checkbook.  What has their being doctors got to do with the loss?  Nothing!  They lost their licenses and checkbooks not because they are doctors but because they were careless, or because they were robbed.

On the other hand, Doctors of Medicine always put the letters “M.D.” after their names, not only to announce to the world that they are physicians, but to distinguish themselves from dentists, veterinarians, and doctors of Philosophy.  Many physicians are not impressed by dentists, veterinarians, and Ph.D. holders even if they are fellow doctors.  For them, Medicine is far too distinguished when compared to Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine on account of the number of years spent in school. They also believe that while anybody with a master’s degree can obtain a Ph.D., not just about anybody can finish medical school.

The select community of honor graduates has its share of vain members, too. I have seen business cards indicating the extent of the person’s educational attainment, and the fact that he graduated with honors.  Announcing these honors during a graduation ceremony, or in a college alumni year book, or in a university alumni roster, is understandable and even expected. Advertising these honors in a business card or on an office letterhead is certainly distasteful.

Late last year, an alderman from a major city in Metropolitan Manila advertised several ordinances he authored.  Each advertisement carried his name, followed by the letters CPA and MBA.  These letters were obviously added to tell the world that he is a certified public accountant, and that he has a master’s degree in business administration.  Would he have authored those ordinances if he were not both an accountant and a holder of a master’s degree?  Did those letters make him more distinguished than the other city councilors?  Of course not!  Moreover, those advertisements were paid with public money.  If Mr. Councilor wants the world to know the extent of his educational exposure, Mr. Councilor should not get a free ride at the expense of taxpayer’s money.

Why is there this obsession for titles and degrees attached to one’s name in the first place?

A lawyer ought to be called “Attorney” when he is in court, or in documents pertaining to legal cases. A physician should be addressed as “Doctor” when he is in a hospital or a medical convention. An engineer should be addressed as such at construction sites. A doctor of Philosophy ought to be so addressed during an academic activity.

Those titles are unnecessary when he or she is included in a list of wedding sponsors, or when his or her name appears in the list of officials of a country club or similar organization.  They are uncalled for in public donations, religious activities, parents-teachers association events, athletic competitions, society pages of newspapers, and in any activity that has nothing to do with one’s title or educational attainment.

Most certainly, they need not appear in the utility bills he or she receives every month. Whether one is a lawyer, physician, engineer, or doctor, he or she must pay for his or her utility bills regardless of his titles and degrees.

Vanity is one reason behind the obsession. Titles herald achievement and success. They distinguish the title holder from the rest of society.  Insecurity, on the other hand, constantly cajoles the title holder into believing that unless he announces his achievement and success, nobody will notice him, and nobody will respect him.  One who holds a title or who has achieved academic success ought to remember that when a professional is competent and reputable, he or she need not advertise that fact to the general public.  Almost inevitably, word of his competence and reputation will go around, and public recognition will come naturally. There will be no need for self-exaltation. To quote from the Good Book, “he who exalts himself shall be humbled.”

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