"Senator, I Have Worked with Professors at the University of Pennsylvania," I Say

"I know professors at the University of Pennsylvania. Professors at the University of Pennsylvania are friends of mine. Senator, you're no University of Pennsylvania Professor."


For the underlying story, see here:

"When I left the United States Senate, I became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania," Biden said. "And I've spent a lot of time—and the University of Delaware has the Biden School as well, so I've spent a lot of time on campus with college students."

Apparently Biden was given the title of Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor at Penn (in 2017, after the end of his Vice-Presidency), which involved him giving four speeches a year, for $390,000/year, according to PhillyMag (David Murrell).

For the underlying source of the quote, you young whippersnappers who don't know the great lines of my youth, see here.

UPDATE: Some commenters argue that Biden was technically correct to say he was a professor, given his title. But I think that misses the point: Quayle may have been technically correct when he had said "I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency"; Bentsen's response was that Quayle was still no Jack Kennedy, regardless of technical analogies of experience. Likewise, Biden had the title Professor (though I think it's rather misleading to describe yourself as a professor when your job doesn't involve substantial teaching or substantial research), but he's still no professor.

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  1. So … Biden was in fact given a position with the rank of Professor? And it was not honorary, remuneration being more than a third of a million per annum? And four speeches might not be many classes, but as a former Veep he presumably is qualified to speak on Presidential practice?
    So … The Senator is, in fact, a University of Pennsylvania Professor?

    1. No, he isn’t in fact a professor in the usual sense of the word “professor,” just as my Juris Doctor doesn’t make me a “doctor” and a Ph.D. in botany doesn’t make one a philosopher. Universities may have various institutional (or historical) reasons to give various titles, but someone who has neither a substantial teaching role nor a substantial scholarly role at a university is not actually a professor.

      1. (I will add, to stave off the legions of outraged botanist-historians, that once upon a time a Ph.D. in botany might have been seen as a “natural philosopher,” but not today.)

        1. Read John Henry Newman’s Idea of a University

      2. A good answer, except that I can’t help feeling you would be on the losing side trying to argue that in a courtroom. Some full professors of renown have no teaching duties; and in places like the Institute of Advanced Studies, no scholarly demands of any kind either. Usage varies, but “Professors are expected to be national or international leaders in their field of expertise” and Biden could fairly claim to be that.

        1. And in a courtroom, Quayle wouldn’t be held liable for having compared his political experience to Kennedy’s (which is what Bentsen was responding to). It’s not that Biden’s statement or Quayle’s would be, say, actionable fraud, or perjury if said in courtroom testimony. It’s that it claims standing that the person doesn’t deserve.

          (Leadership in one’s nonacademic field of expertise isn’t enough to be a professor; a great businessman would be wrong to call himself a professor under similar situations, too, in the absence of adequate teaching or scholarship responsibilities.)

          1. “Leadership in one’s nonacademic field of expertise isn’t enough to be a professor; a great businessman would be wrong to call himself a professor under similar situations, too, in the absence of adequate teaching or scholarship responsibilities.”

            Meaning no disrespect, academia don’t work that way….

            Taking the latter first, great businessmen are routinely awarded faculty status and brought in to teach MBA students. The infamous “Trump University” was really nothing more than what a lot of other places were doing, they just name the buildings after the businessman instead of the university.

            “Camelot High School”, aka Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, *routinely* brings in former politicians, including Bernie Sanders. Conversely, there is the interesting case of Charles Lieber who was (is?) a Department Chair at Harvard and apparently set up a research lab in Wuhan, China that Harvard never knew about — he was arrested last January by the FBI.

            And then several of my MDs hold faculty status at either Harvard or Tufts Medical Schools — they are surgeons who never leave the hospital but supervise residents. And a good chunk of the Physics Department at UMass Amherst teach no classes, some are funded by outside research and some just pretend to be.

            My point is that it isn’t as simple as you make it appear — an analogy would be the mistaken belief that everyone working in a law office is a lawyer. No, there are the secretaries, the paralegals, perhaps a land surveyor or two — and then the various form of “partners.”

            Following this analogy, receiving tenure is like making partner, and that’s why I keep making the point about tenure (and “tenure track”). Tenure originally was supposed to be awarded on three criteria — teaching, research, & public service — and while I think that’s what you are alluding to, it’s no longer true.

            Case in point all the administrators granted tenure because they were hired as an administrator. Conversely, there are no shortage of people who somehow made it through the tenure track and have absolutely no respect from anybody who knows anything about teaching — in some cases, there’s not insignificant mental health issues involved.

      3. Respectfully, Professor Volokh, you are wrong on both counts.

        First, Ph.D. stands for “Philosophiae Doctor” which translates to “Doctor of Philosophy.” That’s a fact, although I will agree that having a Ph.D. in botany no more makes one a philosopher than many Liberals are liberal — words often have multiple meanings.

        Second, if the University of Pennsylvania says that Biden is a professor (i.e. if he isn’t making this up), then he is a professor because IHEs have the right to award faculty status (and tenure) to anyone whom they damn well please. They routinely do so when hiring high-ranking administrators (e.g. Provost, Chancellor, President) and while those people usually go somewhere else when done, they always have the option of “going back to the faculty.”

        It’s usually problematic when they do because the department (e.g. Botany) neither wants them nor are they able to teach anything the department needs taught, but it happens. Likewise, the ROTC contract stipulates that the institution will award faculty status to the ROTC instructors.

        The question of if Biden deserves to be a Penn Professor is quite legitimate but it doesn’t negate the fact that he apparently is one — much like his son was (briefly) a commissioned officer in the Naval Reserve.

        Assuming — well, I trust you remember why his candidacy imploded in 1988m which comes full circle to why someone else was mentioning having known Jack Kennedy…

        1. The problem is that he’s using Penn’s title to mislead people about what he actually did. It’s the Lincoln* dog’s tail situation. If Penn, its faculty, and Biden want to call the dog’s tail a leg, that fine. When they refer to legs among each other, they’ll know that they are referring to either the legs of the tails.

          But it’s another thing to go out in public and proclaim that there are five-legged dogs because you and the faculty only see five-legged dogs.

          The problem isn’t that Biden and Penn agreed he was a professor (well, at least not a problem for anyone other than those paying tuition). The problem is that he used the title “professor” to suggest he was something that he was not.

          (*Maybe not Lincoln, but gets attributed to him anyway. Saved you the response.)

          1. “The problem is that he’s using Penn’s title to mislead people about what he actually did.”

            No, the problem is that Penn sold him the title.

            The university of today is about money, and some administrator made the decision that giving him that title and the chunk of change will somehow benefit Penn. It may be the fame & fortune that Biden will bring, it may be payment for favors Biden did in the past (don’t underestimate that), and it may be how much the development people can leverage it to bring in other monies.

            But Penn awarded the title — and Biden is well within his rights to use it, as long as he does so accurately. Much like a paralegal has every right to say “I work for the firm of A&B”, assuming the person does.

            1. I would take issue with the notion that Penn “sold” him a title when it is Penn that is paying him the princely sum of $97,500 a speech. It seems more that he extorted a title in exchange for allowing them to list him on their faculty.

              It’s interesting how Biden’s seem to get so much for nothing, but, it is Pennsylvania and he did get Rosemont-Seneca all that money and we all know the Heinz family owns Pennsylvania. Also, somebody got their buddy Devon Archer’s conviction tossed out by that Obama appointed “judge” as well.

              1. “It seems more that he extorted a title in exchange for allowing them to list him on their faculty.”

                I’d argue that still constitutes “sold” — they purchasing the ability to list him on their faculty.

      4. According to Merriam a definition of Professor is:

        “a faculty member of the highest academic rank at an institution of higher education”


        So in a well recognized dictionary sense Biden was correct. He’s a faculty member at that rank at an institution of higher education.

        1. Accurate but misleading. That usually counts as a lie. And an insidious lie at that.

          1. Accurate but misleading=insidious? Wow, you have a very low threshold for outrage…Look, he lent his name to sub-unit at the institution. It’s likely he spent time there at the least talking about the planning and such around the sub-unit’s mission and such. And he lectured there (we all know how much a former President or VP’s speeches are valued at on the market) more than several times. The university, for whatever reason, felt like that role warranted (or necessitated) bestowing the rank of Professor.

            Is it that situation the most common thing that comes to mind when someone hears the word ‘professor?’ Nah, I’d admit. But it’s literally what is the second most accepted sense of the term. This is pretty far from ‘insidious’ (in fact, your use of that term is, then, misleading…and I guess therefore ‘insidious?’

        2. I find it interesting that the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) defines its membership criteria as this:

          “Any person who holds a professional position of teacher, researcher, graduate student, or related professional appointment, excluding administrators but including any member of a bargaining unit represented by a chapter, at a college, university, or professional school of similar grade accredited in the United States or Canada…”

          Note that the word “professor” does not even appear…

        3. Does he get to vote at faculty meetings? Including on, say, tenure decisions?

    2. The more topical question is will the University of Pennsylvania withdraw Biden’s honorary professorship now that Biden has been credibly accused by a former aide of sexual assault? Five universities withdrew honorary PhD’s from Bill Cosby, so there is plenty of precedent for it.

      1. Expect that when a criminal (not civil) complaint is filed. Cosby’s one criminal sentence was 3 to 10 in state pen, handed down in April 2018; the first hearings in that place were late 2015, and Penn State pulled his “honorary professorship” shortly afterwards.

      2. Without going too far into the weeds, it’s a lot easier to withdraw an honorary doctorate than to revoke tenured faculty status. Robert Mugabe is a good example and a lot of IHEs that had awarded him honorary degrees (including UMass, eventually) revoked them because he was then killing large numbers of both people and elephants, as well as being a generally not-so-nice guy.

        Tenure can only be revoked for three reasons, one of which is moral turpitude. Cosby’s criminal conviction constituted that, hence grounds to revoke tenure. Tenure is like the First Amendment, it’s defended as a principle.

  2. While my first memory of presidential campaign politics was a Reagan-Mondale debate, I was very young and my first vivid memory was watching a VCR recorded tape of the Benson-Quayle VP debate in 1988 in middle school. That moment stuck with me, as did Quayle’s response of “Senator, that was totally uncalled for” and the audience cheers after each of them got in their shots. I also remember betting a liberal classmate (which, in 6th grade meant a classmate whose parents were liberals) $5 that Bush would beat Dukakis. She did pay up, and I wasn’t enough of a gentleman yet to refuse to collect on the bet. I’m sure I bought some extra pencils for pencil fighting, or maybe some Garbage Pail Kids cards, with the money.

    1. Indeed. I’d add this interesting point about that epigram: the Democrat belittling a Republican saw his clever, clever move backfire. Not only did Bush and Quayle beat the Democratic slate of Dukakis and Bentson – by a whopping landslide – but other Republicans took great delight in adapting it to their own political purposes. For those who did not experience them, the “Aftermath” segment of Eugene’s link enumerates several:
      – Reagan observing Clinton was no Jefferson
      – His daughter Patti disrespecting those who would compare themselves to her Dad, and
      – West Wing actor Bradley Whitford (and active Democrat) disrespecting Sarah Huckabee Sanders for comparing herself with C.J. Cregg, saying “I know C. J. Cregg. C. J. Cregg is a friend of mine. You’re no C. J. Cregg”.
      In this connection it is useful to remember that Whitford does not know Cregg, and Cregg is not a friend. But at least Whitford was correct in his last assertion, for Sanders is indeed no C. J. Cregg; for Cregg is fictional – just like the fictional Presidents of Democratic leanings that the “West Wing” loves to depict.

      1. Quayle was unqualified though. We remember the line, and not Quayle’s pathetic response, for that reason. Quayle really did have no business comparing himself to Kennedy, and we are lucky he only served one term as Veep and HW Bush lived through the term.

        1. Would you consider Obama unqualified? He had even less experience than Quayle. Both didn’t crash the car, though maybe hit a few guardrails though.

          1. Qualification = experience + aptitude.

            Obama had a brilliant intellect and great communication skills, things that Quayle, alas, lacked.

            1. I can see why some would think those things.

              Obama and a brilliant intellect? Debatable. By evidence of accomplishment, above average. Anybody who gets elected president is smarter than the average bear, so even W. Bush and Reagan are on par with Obama here. Nothing special.

              Communication skills? Great on a teleprompter, decent debate skills due to repetition of catchy talking points and outstanding straw-manning abilities, but a stuttering gibberish monger when speaking extemporaneously. He has, what the French call, a wooden tongue. He can say a lot without saying much.

              Quayle? Perhaps not the best VP choice, but one big thing to remember. The liberal media says every Republican is stupid, while glossing over the gaffes of Democrats, and Obama said some stupider things than Quayle spelled potato with an “e” on the end. Was Quayle as smart as Obama? Likely not. As good a communicator as Obama. Admittedly not.

              1. Quayle was a victim of bias as are all Republicans, while Obama is in your objective opinion an average intellect and bad speaker.

                Do you see what a parody you’re being?

                1. Let’s see…a Sarcastro comment, let’s check if it meets standard Sarc comment criteria.

                  Straw-manning? Check
                  “Quayle was a victim of bias as are all Republicans…”
                  *I said MEDIA bias*

                  Bad attempt at being ironically funny? Check
                  “Do you see what a parody you’re being?”
                  *pot, meet kettle, people in glass houses, etc. etc.

                  Misconstrues what is actually said? Check
                  “…Obama is your objective opinion an average intellect…”
                  *I actually said he was above average, due to the evidence of accomplishment, that is, getting elected president*

                  Coming from a place of ignorance? Check
                  *Just take a moment on YouTube and do a search with the term “Obama stuttering” or “Obama ‘uh’ count” then get back to me. I triple dog dare you.*

                  Lack of self-awareness? Check, though admittedly some crossover his bad sense of irony.
                  Useless in furthering the discussion? Again, Check

              2. To suggest that Trump is smarter than the average bear is an insult to bears everywhere.

                1. Two points, average IQ isn’t as high as you would think, and secondly, I wish we had less narcissistic politicians like Trump too, but the process doesn’t select on it.

              3. I hate to tell you this, but potato can also be spelled potatoe — it’s a archaic but recognized spelling.

                More important, the card had it spelled that way — and this is like second-guessing your compass, you don’t do that. You have to trust your staff, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised that someone did this intentionally.

                1. Holy crap you’re a tool.

                  Archaic spellings and blindly following cue cards? This is not a windmill worth tilting at, dude.

                  1. I agree that it’s somewhat irrelevant what the archaic spelling of potato was.

                    But, yes, he actually was given a card by the school that had potato spelled with an “e”, per contemporary news reports. You don’t have to be clinically paranoid to think it might have been a setup, though it would certainly help.

                    Granted, it would have been nice if he’d been confident enough of the correct spelling to have tossed the card aside.

            2. Obama had a brilliant intellect

              Good one.

        2. “Quayle really did have no business comparing himself to Kennedy”

          Sure he did. His experience in the House and Senate was almost identical and they were similar in age and were both son’s of rich men.

          You can’t argue JFK was a towering intellect either.

          1. Kennedy was, by all accounts of those who knew him, far smarter than Quayle.

              1. It is always entertaining to observe a birther opining on evidentiary standards.

                As much fun as watching birthers attempt to persuade that they are not racists.

        3. Bill Weld, clearly not in political alignment with Dan Quayle, stated at the time that Quayle was “one of the brightest people in the party.” Quayle was Dyslexic, which is very different from stupid.

        4. Was he really unqualified? I don’t recall him particularly messing up as VP, except for some verbal goofs that look like the eloquence of Cicero compared to what’s been coming out of Joe Biden’s mouth lately.

  3. Great line. And Quayle wasn’t any Jack Kennedy, but he was a vice-president. That wasn’t any fault of Bentson’s, it was because Bentson was on a ticket with Michael Dukakis, who also wasn’t any Jack Kennedy.

    1. Dukakis wasn’t even an Adlai Stevenson.

    2. Saturday Night Live said “at the request of the parties, this year’s ballot will read:



    3. Bentson was no LBJ either.

      A totally forgettable politician of no achievements but one rehearsed line in a debate in an election he lost. He looked and talked like a Senator, basically Walter Pidgeon in Advise and Consent

      1. Saturday Night Live used my joke once . . . it involved Dan Quayle.

        Thanks for the inspiration, Vice Pres. Quayle.

  4. Notwithstanding the Goldwater Rule, one does have to notice Biden’s apparent cognitive functioning issues. It’s a known fact that he has had a past (nearly fatal) issue with bleeding inside his brain, and, ummmm……

  5. More interesting to me, is the question of why they paid Biden $390,000 for a no work job. That’s the tuition/room/board (approx $71,000) of 5-1/2 students.

    1. Same reason Biden’s son got nearly half a million from a corrupt Ukrainian energy company for a no work job.


  6. Why is everyone focused on whether he should or shouldn’t legitimately be called a professor? Let’s focus on the fact that a professor is being paid $390,000 a year for giving four speeches. You want to cut college costs, let’s look at these absurd professorships.

    1. One of our prestidigitous liberal-libertarian universities chooses to hire a seasoned statesman to impart his wisdom to students, and clingers like you whine about the cost.

      Yet you routinely shell out huge sums of money to get creationism studies degrees from Liberty University.

  7. Between this and the recent credible assault allegation, I’m not sure things look good for Biden.

  8. A cherry-picked swipe at Biden, but no observations concerning the conspicuous performance — involving a steady stream of consequential falsehoods and misleading statements– of the President during a pandemic, professor?

    That’s cowardice. Ankle-nipping, shabby, partisan cowardice.

    It’s probably time for some viewpoint-controlled censorship.


    1. I did a better Kirkland than you did. Sad!

      1. “I did a better Kirkland than you did.”

        Artie Ray Lee Wayne Jim-Bob Kirkland was the equal of any of the clingers who frequent this blog, and better than nearly all of them, until he was banned by the Volokh Conspiracy Board of Censors.

        I wonder how FIRE would rate the Volokh Conspiracy for viewpoint-controlled censorship.

        1. Since you’re still here?

          Probably with an A+

          1. Your selective tolerance of partisan censorship is noted and disdained, clinger.

        2. “I wonder how FIRE would rate the Volokh Conspiracy for viewpoint-controlled censorship.”

          Is this blog an arm of the state? Since it’s not, FIRE would presumably apply the standard it uses for private institutions – that the blog warn participants in advance if their free-expression rights can be curtailed.

          And lo, there’s an editor’s note which says “We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time.”

          But if this isn’t sufficient, then by all means protest the censorship policies. May I suggest you boycott the site?

    2. “A cherry-picked swipe at Biden, …That’s cowardice. Ankle-nipping, shabby, partisan cowardice.”

      Wrong again, Arthur. The fact that Prof V. is addressing this relatively minor allegation while remaining silent about the credible rape allegation is evidence that he’s in the tank for Biden.

  9. “Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor”

    There are two, Biden and Jeb Bush. So, a naked political influence payment by Penn, nicely balanced between parties.

    Part of the The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy “founded through a donation from Andrea Mitchell in 2017.”

    So taxpayers are paying part of the 390K [plus whatever Jeb gets] since her deduction was tax deductible.

    Network TV news reader [married to a former Fed Chair] funds a “center” at an Ivy League college and two washed up politicians get sinecures.

    The “Swamp” summed up.

    Time to seize the endowments like Henry VIII and the monastrries.

    1. I don’t know what you’re complaining about, simply knowing the details of these professorships has educated me about democracy and how it works in practice.

      What more do you want?

    2. “Time to seize the endowments like Henry VIII and the monastrries.”

      Redistribute the property to people with better political connections?

      1. Pay off the National Debt….

        1. Which scenario do you consider more likely, in practice?

    3. “two washed up politicians get sinecures.”

      minor correction: *one* washed-up politician (the establishment Republican) gets a sinecure, while another sinecure goes to a gently used but still viable politician (the Democrat).

  10. Artie Ray Lee Wayne Jim-Bob Kirkland was the equal of any clinger, and better than most, until he was retired by the Volokh Conspiracy Board of Censors.

    1. Did you try to run two *personae* at the same time? Or was this other persona even more offensive than the current one?

      1. Artie Ray was a parody. Until his too authentic conservative commentary invoked the proprietor’s censorious, hypocritical streak.

        In which context Artie Ray Lee Wayne Jim-Bob Kirkland continues to speak volumes.

        1. Was he as clever and original as you are?

          1. Or perhaps he was more so, because I don’t see how he could be *less* so.

            1. If the Volokh Conspiracy didn’t figure Artie Ray was an effective advocate, it would not have banned Artie Ray.

              Artie Ray is content. Knowing that this blog is the best that right-wing academics can manage, and knowing the effect the unvarnished conservative views expressed here have on the non-clinger audience, is pleasing to him.

  11. I generally try to avoid reading Mr. Kirkland’s posts, and certainly to avoid responding to them. But, just this once, since he has been harping on how he has been censored, let me mention the comments of his that I’ve deleted, from my files, with the portions that warranted the deletion set in bold:

    In reply to Sevo.
    The slack-jawed bigots know this is their last gasp, Sarcastro. They’re not even trying to reason or acknowledge reality anymore.
    If you knew your side was about to be stomped for good in American politics, you might act that way, too.

    In reply to Jeff_Kleppe.
    Get an education, Jeff Kleppe, you bigoted rube. No one — other that the slack-jaws — contends the ‘no evidence’ was established.

    In reply to Sevo.
    Open wider, Sevo. Your betters are not done shoving progress down your whiny, bitchy right-wing throat.

    In reply to Bob from Ohio.
    They showed your hero to be a lying, cheating jerk, you half-educated bigot. If you didn’t spend your life in a can’t-keep-up stretch of backwater Ohio, you would recognize this.

    As I recall, these were all from one post. (I hadn’t read them at first, but a reader pointed them out to me.) They seemed to me to be the sorts of substance-free personal insults that merited deletion. To be sure, these are the sorts of comments that someone who thinks of himself as one of “our betters” might post, but I don’t really feel the need to host them on my blog.

    1. By the way, here also are some examples of comments about Mr. Kirkland that I’ve deleted (though I’m sure there are many others I haven’t noticed, since these aren’t the sort of comments I’m eager to read):

      Whereas you’re not a nut, you’re just another idiot leftist fuckwit.

      Well, they haven’t leashed dumbfucks like you, yet.

      So you’re a true hypocrite, then? Go die in a fire, miserable cur.

      F*** off, slaver.

      Look who’s back to Arse Kiss.
      It’s ArtieK!

      Reverend Lying Ass.

      Everyone already knows you are a cocksucker and a coward. If you are going to butt in, you should at least answer the question.

      Something about “Cuckland,” though I didn’t record the details.

    2. I will add that I don’t recall what happened to Artie Ray Lee Wayne Jim-Bob Kirkland — I try not to occupy my scarce neurons with such matters any more than strictly necessary. What I quote is what I have in my files (which only go back several years) about Arthur Kirkland. I can say, though, that my general practice is to (occasionally) delete comments and (much more rarely) ban commenters for personal insults and vulgarities, but not for their politics, whether liberal or conservative or otherwise.

      1. Apologies for posting the remark which seems to have provoked controversy. Will try to avcid such a fuss in future.

        1. Oh, not at all — your comment was perfectly legitimate, and we can’t live our lives worried about what someone on a hobby-horse of his own might say in response.

  12. It’s pretty hypocritical to criticize Sen. Biden for this while giving that guy on Gilligan’s Island a free pass. Even if he could make a record player out of palm fronds.

  13. Does this mean that Prof. Biden is subject to a Title IX complaint?

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