Two weeks after the announcement that former Vice President Joe Biden will join Penn as a professor, administrators, professors and politically minded students alike are still confused about the nature of his role at the University.
On Feb. 7, Penn President Amy Gutmann announced that Biden will lead the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, D.C. as a "Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor," but nearly a month later the administration seems unclear about what this means.
Many students thought Biden would be teaching courses at Penn, but Biden spokesperson Kate Bedingfield said he will not be teaching classes when she spoke to The Daily Pennsylvanian at the beginning of the month.
University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy said the specifics of Biden’s role at Penn are still uncertain. He noted that his office wasn’t “able to have conversations around [Biden’s] specific role until he left office four weeks ago, so details are still being ironed out.”
Despite this ambiguity, many are excited by the idea of a former vice president working with the University. Penn Democrats Communications Director and College sophomore Erin Farrell said she is still shocked by the news of Biden joining Penn.
“I think that we’re all really excited by his decision,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to have hands-on experience working with him.”
Farrell added that Penn Dems is collectively awaiting Biden’s arrival. However, she is also still confused about what exactly his role will be.
“We know as little as everyone else on campus about what Biden will try to do here,” she said. “If he ever wants to speak to us, we, of course, would be very grateful.”
Members of the Penn in Washington program, which allows students to study in Washington, D.C. for a semester and helps them land a part-time internship in the city during that time, said they are also still trying to figure out what Biden’s decision to join Penn as a professor means.
However, PIW Director and professor Deirdre Martinez said she has a clearer idea of what Biden’s plans at Penn will look like.
“I [think] that he will be based out of Washington working towards foreign policy education,” Martinez said.
Although it was first reported that Biden was going to focus on the Cancer Moonshot initiative, which he launched at Penn in 2015, Martinez noted that Biden decided to pay more attention to diplomacy-based work in the nation’s capital rather than on Penn’s campus.
Martinez also affirmed that Biden is expected to play a critical role in improving existing organizations at Penn, like the Penn in Washington program.
“Having that positive presence [at Penn] probably means that people will look at the PIW program more than they might have a year or two ago,” Martinez said.
Second-year Penn Law School student Jennifer Reich, who founded a student group in January dedicated to bringing Biden to Penn, said she was unsure about Biden’s day-to-day responsibilities as a Penn professor. She noted, however, that being based out of Washington could provide Biden the opportunity to make an impact on the national level.