Was Biden a ‘Full Professor’ at the University of Pennsylvania?

And how much was he paid for the gig?

  • Published
Suit, Clothing, Coat
Image via Chatham House/Wikimedia Commons

Claim

U.S. President Joe Biden was a “full professor” at the University of Pennsylvania for four years.

Rating

What’s True

From 2017 to 2021, then-former Vice President Joe Biden was the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. During his time there, he collected more than $900,000. However …

What’s False

… this role was honorary. He gave lectures and talks to students on campus, but did not teach a full semester’s course load during that time.

Fact Check

U.S. President Joe Biden once held an honorary professor position at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), from 2017-2021, after being vice president in Barack Obama’s administration. However, he did not teach a semester’s worth of courses; he primarily gave talks and lectures to students, and he led the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, D.C. 

Republicans criticized Biden after he claimed that he had been a “full professor” for four years at UPenn during a speech he made in mid-April 2022.

After his time as vice president, Biden became the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor, the first to hold such a job. Over the first few years of holding this position, Biden earned more than $900,000 from the university for speaking at various events. According to a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, he “collected $371,159 in 2017 plus $540,484 in 2018 and early 2019 for a vaguely defined role that involved no regular classes and around a dozen public appearances on campus, mostly in big, ticketed events.”

Biden’s professorship did involve him delivering numerous talks and lectures. In 2017, soon after the position was announced, his spokesperson Kate Bedingfield told UPenn’s newspaper The Daily Pennsylvanian that he would not be teaching traditional classes.

Alongside his professorship title, he 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.

A February 2019 list compiled by the Daily Pennsylvanian detailed the more public-facing talks and lectures Biden did over roughly two years. During this time, he did deliver one lecture to Wharton Business School graduate students in a highly selective course run by the Lauder Institute that offers a joint International Studies degree with an MBA. This list did not include the work he may have done behind the scenes. 

In April 2019, when Biden became the candidate for the U.S. presidency, the university released the following statement:

Joe Biden officially announced that he will be running for President of the United States. A number of people on campus have asked in recent days how this would impact his role at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. Now that he is officially a candidate, Vice President Biden, who serves as the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor, will be taking an unpaid leave of absence from his work at the Penn Biden Center.

It should be noted that Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate, also held the title of presidential professor of practice at the university from 2018 to 2020, and participated in talks, lectures, and even made appearances with Biden. His compensation was private, according to the Inquirer. 

According to UPenn, Biden is no longer holding the title. His time in the role lasted from 2017 to 2021. 

This is also not his first professor role. In 1991, Joe Biden became an adjunct professor at Widener University Delaware Law School and taught occasional courses on constitutional law for approximately 20 years. 

Given that Biden was an honorary professor for around four years, earning close to $1 million, but did not teach an actual full course during that time, we rate this claim as a “Mixture.” 

Sources:

A Message to the Penn Community Regarding Vice President Joe Biden. https://almanac.upenn.edu/articles/a-message-to-the-penn-community-regarding-vice-president-joe-biden. Accessed 15 Apr. 2022.

Coudriet, Rebecca Tan, Carter. Joe Biden Came to Penn for the Fourth Time in 2018. Here’s His Role on Campus, Explained. The Daily Pennsylvanian. https://www.thedp.com/article/2017/12/joe-biden-year-in-review-upenn-philadelphia-faculty-politics. Accessed 15 Apr. 2022.

Did Biden Teach Constitutional Law for 21 Years? Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/biden-constitutional-law-teach/. Accessed 15 Apr. 2022.

Jeb Bush | The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy. https://amc.sas.upenn.edu/about/professors-practice/jeb-bush. Accessed 15 Apr. 2022.

Joe Biden | The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy. https://amc.sas.upenn.edu/people/senior-fellow-joe-biden. Accessed 15 Apr. 2022.

Kumar, Hari. No One Is Really Sure What Joe Biden Will Be Doing at Penn. The Daily Pennsylvanian. https://www.thedp.com/article/2017/02/what-is-biden-doing-at-penn. Accessed 15 Apr. 2022.

Sousa, Tori. Biden’s Claim of Being a “teacher” at Penn Drew Scrutiny. Here’s What His Role Really Was. The Daily Pennsylvanian. https://www.thedp.com/article/2020/04/biden-penn-president-trump-wharton. Accessed 15 Apr. 2022.

Tamari, Jonathan. “Penn Has Paid Joe Biden More than $900K since He Left the White House. What Did He Do to Earn the Money?” Philadelphia Inquirer, https://www.inquirer.com/news/joe-biden-penn-salary-lectures-20190712.html. Accessed 15 Apr. 2022.

Vargas, Chase Sutton, Biruk Tibebe, Sophia Dai, Eliud. Photo Essay | A Look Back at Joe Biden’s Visits to Penn since Becoming a Professor. The Daily Pennsylvanian. https://www.thedp.com/article/2019/02/joe-biden-upenn-philadelphia-2020-gutmann-photo-essay. Accessed 15 Apr. 2022.