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Opinions of Sunday, 3 April 2016

Columnist: Graphic.com.gh

Honorary doctorates and fake titles: Who is taking action

I was very impressed when President John Mahama stated on his Facebook page that he does not want to be addressed as ‘Dr’, very exemplary. Apparently, former Presidents Rawlings and Kufuor also declined to be addressed as such despite being awarded numerous honorary doctorates.

President Nkrumah was the only former head of state who used the title, but in his case one can argue that at least he had actually started a doctoral programme but could not complete it because of his political commitments that eventually brought him back home.

On the contrary, however, too many of our citizens are suddenly gripped with the craze to acquire doctorates, most of them from wayside unaccredited institutions. A lot of the ceremonies to confer these degrees are held in hotel lobbies and conference rooms.

There is a particular institution in the United States of America (USA) that has been chasing me for the past three years to pay them $7,500 to be listed among some ubiquitous Institution of Achievers after requesting for my CV. I humbly declined because I sincerely don't know of any world-class achievement of mine, and worse still, having to pay money to be so recognised.

This practice is assuming epidemic proportions and as usual we seem to be doing nothing about it. They come under three broad categories:

Health sector

Many herbalists now call themselves ‘Dr’ and actually use the title in their correspondence and on their call cards. They appear on TV and radio and are addressed as such. Their clinics are referred to as Dr so-and-so Herbal Clinic or hospital. Others pass themselves off as orthodox doctors and engage in dangerous practices, as recently discovered in Swedru. It is such a dangerous practice that I wonder why the media houses do not conduct any checks before inviting these quacks onto their programmes to propagate and actually market false practices.

Religious Sector

Now it's become very fashionable for so many pastors to be called Dr Prophet, Dr Bishop, Dr Apostle or even Prof. Rev. It's almost as if without the addition of the Dr title to their names, their preaching would be less biblical. But what is more worrisome is the mode of acquisition of these titles. It's usually some unknown theology school somewhere conferring such titles.

Business sector

Of late, several very successful business people and industrialists have fallen prey to this fraudulent practice. Sometimes I wonder why people of their calibre would accept honorary doctorates, some from questionable sources, and proceed to use them as part of their designation. This is not good practice.

Professor Kwasi Yankah and several academics have written extensively on the proper usage of such titles but it appears nobody is listening. We live in a society where form is more important than substance. A society where the mere mention of Pastor, Rev., Doctor, Professor, Honourable, etc. evokes respect and sometimes fear. No wonder assembly members are addressed as 'honourable". We are so much in love with titles that we don't relate them to productivity.

How many American presidents or British prime ministers had a doctorate?

Recently, there was an advertiser's notice in the Daily Graphic requesting for people with genuine academic doctorates to apply to join an association to distinguish themselves from the rest. Personally, I don't think that is enough. Aren't there laws or rules regarding the use of titles? If you are not a certified medical practitioner and you address yourself as such, you are a fraud and the law must deal with you.

If you did not submit a doctoral thesis to an accredited university and you call yourself a "Doctor", you are a fraud. Honorary doctorates are not supposed to be used as such. At best it can come after your name in brackets and qualified as "honorary".

It is seemingly little things like these which we take for granted that corrupt us as a people. If religious and other respectable people in society do not see anything wrong with these practices, we shall get to a point when anybody can rise up any day and call himself anything and defraud everyone with much abandon. No wonder we have fake pastors and now quack doctors who are brave enough to advertise their trade on TV.