In February 2017, Penn appointed former Vice President and seasoned Democrat Joe Biden as the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Professor of Practice. The University followed this up a year later in September 2018 with the appointment of former Florida Gov. and prominent Republican Jeb Bush as the 2018-19 academic year Presidential Professor of Practice.
Hailing from two diverse ends of the political spectrum, both Presidential Professor of Practice appointments were said to have come as attempts to further debate and civil discourse on campus. Yet, the responsibilities of, timeline for, and student reactions to both political leaders have been notably varied.
At the time of Bush's appointment, Provost Wendell Pritchett, in an interview with Penn Today, cited the move as complementary to the University's previous liberal employments.
Political Science professor Dan Hopkins agreed that the opposing political viewpoints of both Bush and Biden would promote bipartisan conversation on campus.
"Jeb Bush and Joe Biden have built significant political support for their viewpoints and they’re both exemplars of their party's views,” Hopkins said. “One of the really important things we can do as a University is to make sure that we’re facilitating conversations on campus among well meaning people. I think having both Jeb Bush and Biden will help us do that.”
The roles of the two presidential professors have several similarities — both professors have the same title, will not be teaching any classes, and will spend most of their time off campus. But there are some logistical discrepancies between the two posts.
Bush was appointed to be at Penn for one year while Biden was appointed indefinitely; Bush is affiliated with one school while Biden is affiliated with three; finally, Bush is currently only affiliated with Penn while Biden also holds a leadership title at the University of Delaware.
Biden also opened the Penn Biden Center in Washington, D.C. in coordination with the University.
Biden holds joint appointments in the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Arts and Sciences, and a secondary affiliation in the Wharton School. Bush, however, is expected to only have one affiliation with the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy in the School of Arts and Sciences located in the new Perelman Center for Political Science on 36th and Walnut streets.
In addition to their different relationships with Penn, students have also had varied reactions to the announcements of the two political figures.
“I definitely don’t think Bush is as popular as Biden,” College sophomore, Penn Democrats member, and Government and Politics Association member Rachel Steinig said. “I definitely think some students are excited about Bush coming, but most people in my political circles don’t think there was really any hype around it compared to Biden."
She added that this is probably due to the fact that the majority of Penn students align themselves with Democrats rather than Republicans.
Yet, for College sophomore James Nycz, the lack of hype on campus around Bush may also be due to the former 2016 presidential hopeful's political hiatus. Bush served as governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007 and did not run for public office again until 2016.
“I think that the reaction to him was very different," Nycz, who currently serves as marketing chair for the Penn Political Union branch of GPA, said. "I think that he’s also a very different person, he’s been out of the political game for much longer than Biden has, he didn’t have as large of a standing."
For Nycz, though, Bush's apparent lack of popularity on campus is not reflective of the value of his contributions to the University.
“As long as someone meets those criteria of looking forward and looking for shared truth and understanding the ideas that our University stands for, I think that it’s valuable to have that perspective," Nycz said. "A lot of students recognize that as well and are excited for [Bush and Biden] to come here.”
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