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Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke at a voter registration event in Bodek Lounge on Sept. 25.

Credit: Audrey Tirtaguna

Former Vice President Joe Biden was back on campus for the fourth time this year. The Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor was at the University for the high-profile Perry World House colloquium featuring National Security Advisors Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Susan Rice. 

But before Biden's scheduled dialogue at Irvine Auditorium with former U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the former VP spent time at a voter registration event hosted by student groups at Bodek Lounge. Hundreds of students were seen swarming the Democratic Party leader, who spoke about the reputation of the United States in the Trump era and urged students to vote regardless of their political affiliation.

Earlier this year, Biden made a low-profile visit to campus to attend a class with Wharton graduate students in the highly selective course run by The Lauder Institute's William Lauder. He also made a public appearance in February for the Silfen Forum, and then again in March, for a dialogue with President Amy Gutmann around international affairs and cancer research. 

After wrapping up his term under President Barack Obama in 2016, Joe Biden accepted the title of "Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor" and a position leading the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, based in Washington, DC. Biden was named a Penn professor about a year after partnering with Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center following the death of his son, 1991 College graduate Beau Biden.

Biden remains a figure of intense fascination on campus. Students swarm the former vice president nearly every time he appears on campus this year, and events where he speaks consistently elicit a full house. While the exact nature of Biden’s role is still unclear, many students have been inspired by his talks on griefimmigration, and research.

Credit: Arabella Uhry

How did Biden get his title?

Toward the end of 2016, rumors about Biden coming to Penn started to become a reality. Politico reported last December that Biden would be heading to Penn to “set up shop,” and in the following weeks, the former vice president all but confirmed the rumors. Quartz reported Biden saying on a hot mic at a ceremonial swearing-in event for the Senate that he would be “based out of Penn for foreign policy,” substantiating campus rumors and building a fair degree of excitement and anticipation.

The official announcement came in February, when Biden's arrival and the opening of his D.C. research center were announced. Biden officially held joint appointments in the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Arts and Sciences, with a secondary affiliation in the Wharton School.

But with the good news came some disappointment for Biden fans at Penn; while his center would focus on relevant hot-button topics like diplomacy and foreign policy, Annenberg Dean Michael Delli Carpini said in a statement that Biden was “not scheduled to teach a formal course at this time.”

What has the vice president been doing since he was appointed? 

While students have yet to enter a classroom led by Biden, the former vice president has persisted as a de facto campus celebrity through multiple speaking events on campus. 

At Biden’s first major speech after his appointment, he called on the United States to take a lead role in the fight against cancer. “We have more high-quality research universities than the rest of the world combined,” Biden said. “We have the greatest capacity to make progress as any time in the history of the world.” 

The event — which was originally going to feature former Penn Medicine patient and ambassador Lori Alf, whose invitation was rescinded after a report that she had been accused of discriminating against an Iraqi family — featured both Biden and Penn President Amy Gutmann, who praised the former Delaware senator as the only Penn faculty member in the world to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction.

Biden’s other major speaking events included a dialogue in 2017 with former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and an emotional interview in November that same year, where he promoted his new book, “Promise Me, Dad,” and spoke heavily about Beau, his son who died of brain cancer in 2015.

“He still went to work every single day as attorney general until the day he died,” Biden told a tearful crowd in Irvine Auditorium. “He told me to smile if anyone asked about him. ‘Smile, dad, smile. I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me,’ he’d say.”