Thomas Russell Wingate  
December 2009–January 2010
December 2012    


A diploma is a formal document attesting by seal and signatures that an institution of learning has conferred a degree upon an individual who has fulfilled its requirements. Diplomas are often framed for prominent display.

(In olden times, the diploma was on sheepskin for portability and permanence. The idiom endures.)

A degree is not the same as a license. To practice medicine, for example, one must have a medical license issued by a government, which will demand to be shown a diploma from a medical school it recognizes before issuing the license. The license may need to be renewed, and may be revoked for cause, but the degree is permanent.


Degrees have abbreviations (called initials). These are properly displayed after one’s name in the order in which they have been received.

When degrees higher than the bachelor’s degree are listed, the bachelor’s degree is usually omitted, since it is understood to be a prerequisite.


Postnominal initials:

Elvis Beatle, D.D.S.

Prenominal abbreviation:

Dr. Elvis Beatle

Ghastly ignorance:

Dr. Elvis Beatle, D.D.S.


When postnominal initials stand for decorations (civilian or military) conferred by governments, or for membership in religious orders or professional bodies, they are arranged in the order of their importance without respect to chronology. (This is also true of medals and ribbons worn on uniforms.)

Sir Reginald Shoehorne, C.H., F.R.G.S., M.A. (Oxon.)
Pablo Arroyoseco, S.J., Ph.D.
Jack Quibbler, C.P.A., J.D.

It is best not to use too many.


Noun: doctorate
Adjectives: doctoral, doctor’s

Noun: masterate
Adjective: master’s

(In olden times, a masterate was a license to teach semper et ubique et ab omnibus—“always and everywhere and to everyone.” Certification laws now protect us from generalists.)

Noun: baccalaureate
Adjective: bachelor’s


When “bachelor” does not mean “unmarried man,” it means one of either sex who holds a bachelor’s degree. “College graduate” gets the point across better.

To be fancy: alumnus (masculine singular), alumna (feminine singular), alumni (masculine plural), alumnae (feminine plural). These can be applied to high schools and prep schools.

Faculty members in retirement: emeritus (masculine singular), emerita (feminine singular), emeriti (masculine plural), emeritae (feminine plural).

Alma mater (“nourishing mother”) lays claim to you if you ever studied there. You may lay claim to her if you choose. The ceremonial term has been built to seem sophisticated to many but has come to seem excessive to many others. The plural is almae matres.

Beware of the euphemism “attended.” It means “did not graduate.”


Doctoral dissertation

Master’s thesis (in olden times, “masterpiece”)

Senior thesis


In British usage, some equivalences are assumed without being noticed.

University of Cambridge (Cantab.) = Cambridge University
University of Oxford (Oxon.) = Oxford University
University of London = London University
University of St. Andrews = St. Andrews University

In America, these are kept distinct.

University of Washington / Washington University / George Washington University / Washington State University

University of California / California State University / University of Southern California

New York University / State University of New York / City University of New York

Indiana University (not University of Indiana)

Boston University (not University of Boston)

University of Chicago (not Chicago University)



University of Phoenix motto: Thinking Ahead.


Since 1976 University of Phoenix innovations have been harshly judged by irrelevant criteria brandished by the timid and the tepid and by torpid institutions that house them, recruit them, advance them, and delude them.


I am no longer in touch. When I was, offices in dozens of cities supplied classroom instruction of high quality by professional non-teachers accountable to their not-so-young students.


After my M.B.A. completion (Salt Lake, 1989), accredited education for professionals by Internet—at first, courses; later, entire degrees—was launched and advertised on a grand scale.


Triumphs accumulate, just about everywhere. (See Wikipedia to keep up.)


Who is copying whom? On-line instruction leading to degrees or certificates of proficiency can now be had from universities eminent a century ago.  


Perhaps better, and certainly less costly, are the DVDs and CDs offered by The Great Courses (formerly The Teaching Company). Homeschoolers, take note.


Thinking Ahead: that’s what pioneers do.



Academic degrees are correlated more closely with perseverance than with intelligence. Mensa accepts only the foremost fiftieth. Psychometricians have shown that about half of American Ph.D.s cannot enter Mensa.¹

Is this widely known? Who² might have decided it shouldn’t be?


“Mensan” may be written before or after the name.

Mensan Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov, Mensan
Mensan Isaac Asimov, Ph.D.
Isaac Asimov, Ph.D., Mensan

It is an invariant credential not gained through background or pressure.

As academia’s gatekeeping position erodes, Mensa’s name³ should shine more brightly.


In 1983 eminent educators published A Nation at Risk, declaring that “a rising tide of mediocrity” was destroying American education. Their report became instantly famous because it rang so true. Ten years later their work was amplified by the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, who predicted that Americans would abandon the public (government) school system in a decade. The reports were right and wrong: right, in that deterioration of thinking has accelerated; wrong, in that the public schools have been permitted to survive.

“An avalanche of denseness” is what the educators meant to say. Avalanches can be provoked. Avalanches carry all before them and settle in place.

The piety schooling = education, more schooling = more education has misled millions over generations.

What we have now won’t ebb.


1 We read in Mensa Journal (January-February 1983, page 32) that the 98th
   percentile for the general population equals the 93rd for college students.
   The mean IQ percentile for holders of the research doctorate (Ph.D.) in the
   United States is the collegiate 93rd. If the mean average is near the median,
   half of them cannot be accepted by Mensa. (We are including here those
   who obtained their doctorates from middling institutions. They far out-
   number those with doctorates from the most selective.) If the mean is
   above the median, rather more than half will fall short.
2 “The Ph.D. Octopus” by William James (1907) is on several Internet sites.
3 Latin: “table.” See Wikipedia.
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