Fact Check: Was Joe Biden Ever a ‘Professor in College’?

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Getty 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden.

During his September 3 speech in Kenosha, Wisconsin, former vice president and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden said that what drew him from his job as a professor back into politics was the sight of torch-holding anti-Semites marching in Charlottesville.

“I had not planned on running for anything again after my son had died. And I was a professor in college and running another program at the college until I saw those people coming out of Charlottesville,” Biden said.

His statement that he was a professor in college left many wondering when — or even if — Biden was ever a professor. Biden has taught constitutional law as an adjunct professor and worked at the University of Pennsylvania after his time as vice president.

Biden Was a Law Professor at Widener University Starting in 1991

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Biden has been an adjunct law professor at Widener University Delaware Law School in Wilmington since 1991, according to the school’s website. Biden brought up his time at Widener during an October 15 town hall on ABC News, saying he has taught constitutional law for 21 years when asked about the Supreme Court. Again some questioned whether that was true, with many not realizing he has been a longtime adjunct professor.

In 2008, Biden made it to his class to teach while still on the campaign trail as Barack Obama’s running mate. A school spokesperson told CBS News Biden has long been committed to teaching and once even “took the red-eye out of Afghanistan to make this class.”

One of Biden’s students told CBS News in 2008, “He’s just got a real rapport with people. I mean, obviously. The topic was ‘Issues in Constitutional Law’ and he’s quite the expert on it.” His students told CBS News Biden talked about the Supreme Court and his experiences on the judiciary committee.

Biden, a graduate of the Syracuse University College of Law who practiced law as a public defender and at corporate and criminal firms, also mentioned his time as a constitutional law professor on Twitter in February when talking about gun laws, writing, “I taught constitutional law for a long time and here’s the deal: No amendment is absolute. There are limits. Common-sense reforms like background checks and a ban on assault weapons are not a violation of the Second Amendment. Period.”

According to Roll Call, Biden was paid a $20,500 stipend by Widener University while he taught there. Roll Call wrote in a 2008 article, “Biden team-teaches a seminar called Selected Topics in Constitutional Law with professor Robert Hayman. The class meets Saturday mornings, and, according to Hayman, Biden guarantees that he will be present for at least half of the class time.” Biden taught the class alone until 2003, Roll Call reported.

Biden Was Officially Named a ‘Practice Professor’ at the University of Pennsylvania in 2017

Some, unaware about his time teaching law, believe Biden is being misleading when he says he was a professor, pointing to his time at the University of Pennsylvania. It is true, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s own newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, that Biden has never taught a class at that university. However, he does hold an honorary professor position, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

After finishing his eight-year stint as the vice president of the United States, Biden was chosen to be Penn’s Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor and he was also named the “driving force” behind the university’s Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Engagement.

According to Penn University, Biden’s new title had multiple affiliations: “As Presidential Practice Professor, Biden will hold joint appointments in the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Arts and Sciences, with a secondary affiliation in the Wharton School.”

Between 2017 and 2019, Biden earned more than $900,000 at the college, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which drew some criticism considering that there was no evidence Biden ever taught any classes. Instead, the Inquirer reported that Biden appeared at Q&As, panel discussions and public conversations.

Douglas Webber of Temple University told the Inquirer that what the university paid Biden is fairly insignificant since Penn is a private school and Biden’s high-profile nature makes his association with it more valuable than the average professor.

“(Teaching) is not the value that Penn is hoping to get from having him associated with them,” Webber said. “They’re wanting prestige, they’re wanting to brag about this to donors. Penn plays with big money donors, and if this moves the needle even a little bit in terms of getting a big donation, then it’s instantly worth the investment.”

Biden Left Penn to Launch His Campaign

Introducing the Penn Biden CenterThe Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania is founded on the principle that a democratic, open, secure, tolerant, and interconnected world benefits all Americans. Based in our nation's capital, the Penn Biden Center works with Penn's students, partners, faculty, and global centers to convene world leaders, develop and…2018-02-08T14:00:01Z

According to the Penn Biden Center website, its mission is to “(engage) Penn’s students and partners with its faculty and global centers to convene world leaders, develop and advance smart policy, and strengthen the national debate for continued American global leadership in the 21st century.”

According to The Daily Pennsylvanian, some of Biden’s activities as the center’s leader included helping host a voter registration drive for students; speaking with global leaders, such as former U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and former Mexican President Felipe Calderon; and giving talks on everything from immigration (telling Mexican students “we want you to stay”) to the grief he felt when his son Beau died from brain cancer.

Biden also discreetly attended a class with Wharton graduates, the paper reported.

The Daily Pennsylvanian reported in April 2019 that Biden was taking a leave of absence from the center to enter into the 2020 presidential election; it has since functioned under “different leadership.”

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