Joe Biden recently released his tax returns as part of his bid to win the Democratic nomination. As the DP reported last week, according to those tax returns, Biden’s salary as the Professor of Presidential Practice at Penn was $371,159 in 2017 and $405,368 in 2018. Compare that to the $225,000 salary he earned while he served as Vice President of the United States, and to the $213,613 salary earned by the average Penn professor. These numbers paint a clear picture: Joe Biden is paid an egregious amount of money for the limited amount of work that he does on this campus.
Now, I won’t lie. I like Joe Biden. Coming to Penn, I was genuinely excited to be attending a school that had the former Vice President of the United States on its payroll. Whenever Joe Biden visits campus, I run with everyone else to try and grab a picture for my Snapchat story. And, even though Biden is rarely on campus, I do think that he’s a valuable PR resource that the University should retain, especially now that he’s a major contender for the Democratic nomination and constantly in the news cycle. And yet, all of that said, Penn is paying an awful lot of money for someone whose job more or less boils down to being a PR prop, especially given that he has come under fire for inappropriate behavior in recent weeks.
Professorships should not be empty titles. The fact that the University has awarded one to someone who, although not lacking in merit, is not wholly dedicated to the creation of new knowledge and the education of students, is insulting to those who do that work and deserve their title. Countless professors at Penn are leading experts in their fields, spearheading groundbreaking research, and teaching three or four different classes a week each semester. Despite the fact that they do more positive work for Penn in one month than what Joe Biden has done in two and a half years, they are paid only a little more than half of what he earns. Penn is a university, which means that its top priorities ought to be the education and well-being of its students and the funding of worthwhile research. The chasm that lies between the salaries of Penn’s professors and that of its media darling clearly shows that this school’s priorities have drifted away from its original purpose. While marketing and branding may support the future of the institution, they rarely benefit the people who currently occupy it.
Not to mention, the excess of Biden’s salary rubs salt in the wounds of those whom the University has chronically given short shrift: namely, the countless employees who patrol Penn’s campus, guard its dorms, and work its dining halls. Penn does not pay its workers a living wage, and for a university that has a $13 billion endowment and can afford to pay a former Vice President to essentially do nothing but sporadically show his face on campus, is utterly outrageous. Only recently has Penn raised the wages of its security guards to $15 an hour (up from an average of $12.78 an hour), and only because of a newly adopted city-wide policy. If Penn chose to rely less on outside figures for its public image, it could create a positive reputation all its own by valuing its employees and thus giving back to a community that it has historically mistreated.
Currently, Joe Biden is taking an extended, unpaid leave of absence as he campaigns for the Democratic primaries. The problem is, this absence (which started in April) feels awfully similar to his presence on campus. There is no doubt that Joe Biden has much to offer the Penn community. However, if he is to return to campus at any time during these next few months, he should return fully prepared to put his talents to use for the good of the Penn community, or else the University should pay him a salary that more accurately reflects his contributions to this institution.
JAMES MORRISON is a College sophomore from Pipersville, Pa. studying English. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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