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The “doctors, professors and counselors at law” in the Liberian society

By Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh     tws

I always thought the two-letter word that preceded his name was actually his first name. But it wasn’t. As a child, however, I constantly heard the press and others referred to the Liberian president at the time as “Dr. Tubman.”

The dictatorial Mr. Tubman set the precedent and encouraged the Liberian people and those that came in constant contact with him to call him “Dr.”

Since his death in 1971, his predecessors preferred to also be called doctors, as in “Dr. Tolbert”, “Dr. Doe,” Dr. Taylor” and now some are referring to the current president as “Dr. Sirleaf,” as if that’s the only way Liberian presidents can be validated.
To her credit, though, Ms. Sirleaf has been reticent about the press calling her “Dr.” Sirleaf,” but has yet to put an end to the practice perhaps because it is to her taste.

This thing about being called ‘Dr.’ reached comical proportions during the Doe administration when it was reported that Mr. Doe’s wife, Nancy, who was used to hearing the press and others referred to her husband as “Dr Doe,” actually thought Mr. Doe was actually a medical doctor.

Because she did not know the difference between a medical doctor degree and the earned doctorate degree awarded to   individuals from their respective colleges and universities, the story is told that she demanded her non-doctorate-non-physician husband to treat her when she got ill. “I want Sammy to treat me when I get sick” Mrs. Doe was reportedly heard saying at one time. According to Liberians, it was later explained to her that her husband was not actually a medical doctor, but something else far from being any of the above.

Liberians with PhDs are close to being fanatical about wanting people to refer to them constantly as “doctors” in non-academic settings; else, the individual will tell you to “please put a handle to my name.”

Another nuance I have often noticed is that when a Liberian with a PhD writes an article to be published in a non-academic journal, the individual requests that the PhD be attached to the end of their name as if the PhD is their given name.
The Liberian Dialogue’s editorial policy has always been to recognize the MD (medical doctor), the city or state, and include the PhD in the article when the topic is academic in nature and adds to the national debate.

I have yet to verify another joke told by Liberians about a particular guy who has two PhDs, and prefers to be called “Dr. Dr.,” else, he will quickly make the correction that his PhDs be added after his name before he even can allow a conversation to begin.

The Liberian press, known for its shameless pandering and incompetence continues to clog their reporting with wordiness when they are writing about government officials and ordinary citizens with PhDs.

A former member of the House of Representative, Ketterkumehn Earl Murray, who has a doctorate is referred to in the Liberian media as “Representative Dr. Murray.”  Why not called the man Rep. Murray?

Then Supreme Court Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis was often referred to as  ‘Chief Justice Cllr. Johnnie N. Lewis,’ former Minister of Justice, Frances Johnson Morris as ‘Minister of Justice Cllr. Frances Johnson Morris,’ and former Solicitor-General Tiawon Gongloe as ‘Solicitor General Cll. Tiawon Gongloe.”

Even university instructors with no trail of stellar professorship and professional peer-reviewed academic papers or books to their names are referred to as “professors” in the Liberian media.

Wilson Tarpeh and Alhaji Kromah, both of whom teach courses at the University of Liberia are often referred to as “Professor Tarpeh” and “Professor Kromah” respectively by the Liberian press.

Why not follow the standard set by leading countries and institutions in nations we looked up to to learn the proper way to refer to our politicians and others? Since we claimed to be so close to the U.S., why not study the best examples from them to do things the right way?

An example would be the way individuals and the press refers to publicymakers and non-policymakers in the U.S. with advance academic degrees. Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, a PhD and an intellectual powerhouse, firebrand and former college professor with many books to his credit, is an example.
There are individuals with PhDs in the American political and academic scenes that are often referred to only by their first name, last name or full names, yet are inspiring to others, and are contributing immensely to the American society in a positive way.

We often read about the contributions of Americans to the national debate and hear less about their PhDs, because actions and contributions to society speak louder than a mere PhD gathering dust on a wall somewhere.

Liberians with PhDs are known to hide behind their PhDs and let it gather dusts on the wall, and rely on government for jobs. I don’t have anything against the brothers and sisters with PhDs. Kudos to them for reaching that academic milestone.

I wish those Liberians with PhDs would be humble enough to let their good work shine before God, men and women by contributing to society, so that their contributions to society will inspire others to do the same. The flaunting of PhDs and other academic credentials will not rebuild Liberia or put food on the table for the suffering masses.


Category: Editorial

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