Former Florida Gov. and 2016 Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush became Penn’s second presidential professor of practice last week, joining former Vice President Joe Biden, who was named the Benjamin Franklin presidential professor of practice last year. Professors at Penn greeted the move as a positive step toward bipartisan discourse on campus.
Although the two figures hail from different parties and different ideological backgrounds, both Bush and Biden share something in common at Penn: Neither will be teaching a class and neither will be a regular fixture on Penn’s campus.
For Professor of Practice Joni Finney, who teaches in the Graduate School of Education and serves as the director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education, the presidential professors' lack of teaching is understandable because of their commitments.
The title of 'Presidential Professors of Practice' is more “honorific,” Finney said, contrasting the expected roles of Bush and Biden with most professors of practice at Penn and other universities.
Finney, who earned her title of professor of practice after entering academia from a career in public policy, added that the classic understanding of professors of practice is similar to that of a professor. A professor of practice shares the same teaching responsibilities and workloads as other professors, but come into academia from a life spent working in another field.
“[Professors of practice] really bring a much more pragmatic perspective and expose students to literatures they may not get in their traditional programs,” Finney said. “It’s really helpful to have people who have worked in one area work side-by-side with the faculty and the students to provide them with a well-rounded education.”
But the positions of Bush and Biden are markedly different from other professors of practice, with a reduced focus on teaching and increased emphasis on a campus presence, Finney said.
“I wouldn’t expect Bush to teach, unless he really wants to teach a regular class,” Finney said. “But like Joe Biden, he will probably be on campus a lot, talking to students, talking with student groups, doing interviews — so he’ll have a whole presence.”
Bush’s involvement on campus was also noted by Jeffrey Green, the director of the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy. According to Penn's press release, Bush will be affiliated with the center during his time at Penn.
“Within the specific world of the Mitchell Center, we’re looking forward to finding ways to bring figures from the world of politics into conversation with students, other members of the Penn community, and the broader public,” Green said.
Political Science professor Dan Hopkins said Bush’s move to Penn was not a surprising one, given it is common for former politicians to become engaged in academic life. He also commended Penn for attracting a conservative figure like Bush.
“I think universities are a great place to jumpstart conversations,” Hopkins said. “We are at a political moment where many on the right view universities with suspicion, so I think it is particularly notable that Penn could attract a Republican of his stature.”
Both of Penn’s presidential professors of practice have been outspoken in their criticism of President Trump, with Bush labeling Trump a "jerk” and Biden expressing his desire to beat up the president.
Yet for Finney, the suggestion that the two hirings are in response to Trump is a claim without basis.
“I don’t really see it as a response to Trump at all,” Finney said. “I think it’s much more, ‘Let’s model the kind of discourse we should have.’ Trump certainly exposed those fissures in our public dialogue and I think the response might be to that more than anything.”
In all, there was optimism that the addition of Jeb Bush to Penn's faculty would promote bipartisan conversations.
"I actually think it’s a really brilliant idea, I was glad when Biden was appointed, and I’m glad Bush is there too," Finney said. "I think it shows you can have constructive discourse coming from both parties if you work at it."
Hopkins agreed with these sentiments.
"I am excited, insofar as I think Penn is a leading university of which to study politics," Hopkins said. "That requires you to have leading voices from varied viewpoints from both the major political parties."
Jeb Bush’s transition to a role in academia comes after his unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2016 election, where he was eventually beaten by Wharton 1968 graduate Donald Trump. Bush dropped out of the race in February 2016 after a string of disappointing results in key primaries.