North American political leaders get called a lot of names, but “egghead” usually isn’t one of them.
As a result, I wasn’t all that shocked to recently learn that the United States has had only one president to earn a PhD.
This nugget of trivia (or should it be a trivial nugget?) was gleaned while reading a column about how American presidents through history have had to cope with abrupt changes to their agendas.
The current event that prompted this discussion was the hijacking of president Joe Biden’s preferred priorities by the most recent Israeli-Hamas war. However, the columnist also looked at other examples, including the granddaddy of them all, Woodrow Wilson, who was elected on a domestic platform and then faced the ultimate foreign affairs challenge — the First World War.
It was in that section of the column where Wilson was described as being the only U.S. president to have a doctoral degree.
This in turn got me wondering, how many Canadian prime ministers earned their PhD. As in the United States, the answer is one — Mackenzie King, who led the country for four years in the 1920s, five in the 1930s and eight in the 1940s.
His PhD from Harvard was based on a report he wrote for the federal government in 1908 while deputy minister of labour, in which he argued against allowing immigration from Asia.
Pierre Trudeau almost earned a PhD, embarking on doctoral studies at the London School of Economics before quitting.
And that’s it for the ultimate in academic prowess.
So what exactly is a PhD?
Most of us see it as code for “went to school for a really long time,” but Wikepedia describes it “as the most common degree at the highest academic level awarded following a course of study.”
It stands for doctor of philosophy, which means King could have called himself Dr. King, although I’ve never heard him referred that way.
The one Canadian prime minister who could have been excused for calling himself that was Charles Tupper, who actually was a medical practitioner.
It’s probably no surprise that most of Canada’s 23 prime ministers had law degrees — 16 to be exact.
Besides Dr. Tupper, there have also been one stonemason, one diplomat, one economist, one teacher and two newspapermen, which of course, warms my heart.