So it’s no surprise that the school has wrapped its arms so vigorously around Biden, who is in fact a proud graduate of the University of Delaware (which also has the Biden Institute). At Penn, she represents another campus relationship with immortality, a lack of luggage more than compensated by Penn’s lack of an associate degree.
“Joe Biden is one of the greatest statesmen of our time,” said Amy Gutmann, then president of the school, when the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement was founded in 2018. “His unmatched understanding of democracy and far-reaching understanding of the world’s problems make him the perfect match.” (After Biden, who made over $ 900,000 from his appointments with Penn, moved to the White House, he appointed Gutmann as the US ambassador to Germany.)
But the strangest thing about the 79-year-old president and 281-year-old university’s mutual feelings is that it is happening at all.
As with many things neighboring Biden, the dance between beloved school and beloved son has become a bit retro. The willingness of the president born in Wilmington to be associated with an elite institution in the nearest metropolis and the pride that he could send his own offspring there is an instinct that most ambitious Poles do not share. Also, most colleges do not share Penn’s inclination to take him back. A more common attitude these days is that would-be presidential graduates want nothing to do with their alma maters alumni, or alma maters want nothing to do with their alma maters who want to become presidents – or both.
As an example, consider Biden’s predecessor. Trump has a degree in economics from Penn’s Wharton. He also sent kids there: Donald Jr., Ivanka and Tiffany all have Penn ranks. In fact, he is the only Penn graduate to become president. But although the 45th president liked talking about his Wharton degree so much that it used to be a school newspaper I followed a number of times dropped the name, the university never really returned the favor: Trump never gave a starting address or received an honorary degree; campus guides they were said to be discouraged by recalling his name and issuing instructions, to keep it short if a potential student inquired about the then president.
At least Trump wanted to be associated with his alma mater. For the former Republican president, George W. Bush, the fact that had a terrifying experience on the Yale campus. from the time of Vietnam was part of his political history of adolescence. Although Bush, with his long stakes in Yale, did speak at the beginning and sent his daughter there, the venerable school never became part of his political brand of Reborn in Texas.
Even so, Bush is a true booster club member compared to his successor, Barack Obama, who graduated with an undergraduate degree from Colombia, which does not deserve a mention in his autobiography, Dreams from My Father. Excerpts from the book about his time in Columbia include descriptions of characters from his off-campus neighborhood and moody Manhattan walks. There are very few nostalgic memories of the good old campus days to find in an alumni magazine.
Apparently, this is no longer the time Bill Clinton hosted the Georgetown White House convention, nor was JFK filling his administration with the Harvard Brain Trust.
This, given the complicated relationship between university, class, and status in modern America, makes it an interesting phenomenon for anyone who pays attention to the types of elite that typically hold high office in the country. While college graduates were once far more republican than the general public, for much of the 20th century there was general agreement about the value of educational credentials. Nowadays, university graduates make up the greater part of the electorate and break with the democrats. But a more important statistic concerns feelings about the university itself: sharp guerrilla division to the question of whether colleges have a negative impact on the United States.
There were times when presidents who did not play for college did so largely because their colleges were not considered prestigious enough by a cross-party intelligent Beltway group that still had the power to intimidate even political titans. Lyndon Johnson (Southwest Texas State Teachers College) and Richard Nixon (Whittier College) had hard roots that helped define their political biographies and personal styles. But in practice, they left their home colleges in the rearview mirror by the time they got to Washington. US policemen may worship log cabin stories, but apparently there are no steps in log cabins.
Likewise, Ronald Reagan, whose political history usually began in California, usually didn’t talk much about Eureka College in his native Illinois, and his diploma gave rise to some elite chuckles: in one incident that brought Harvard a deserved mockery, Reagan turned down the school’s offer to attend in the 350th anniversary celebration in 1986 after she announced that she would not be awarding the honorary title, even though the presidents who attended her 300th (Franklin Roosevelt) and 250th (Grover Cleveland) anniversaries were offered such honors.
By the time the university’s 400th birthday comes in 2036, it is likely that contempt will be a two-way street.
Consider potential future presidents whose college credentials periodically pop up in the news: Ted Cruz (Princeton), Josh Hawley (Stanford), Ron DeSantis (Yale), and Tom Cotton (Harvard), to name a few. The reason you know about their connections to these stately schools isn’t that they go on Biden-style trips to campuses and bask in the praise of former university chancellors. Rather, it’s because critics use them as a club to mock Trump-friendly conservative Poles as plutocratic bogus populists. “Ivy League Kids,” Joe Scarborough snorted after Cruz, Hawley and Cotton att*cked the “elite” at last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
The times when they include their alma maters can lead to confusion, such as when a Cruz in a goofy disguise at Princeton during the visit of the alumni took place a few years ago. It’s best to stay away.
In contrast, for most of their counterparts among ambitious younger Democrats – in a smaller group – college tends not to be an essential part of the political identity for fans or enemies. Do you know where Gavin Newsom, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Gretchen Whitmer went to college? Would there be any answer to the question that would change your idea of them? (They went to Santa Clara University, Boston University, and Michigan State, respectively.)
In a polarized tribal country, colleges almost certainly prefer it this way. After leading an attempt to reject the 2020 election results, Cruz found himself condemned by his class in 1992, classmates; it was also a student subject petition seeking Fr. preventively prevent the school from awarding him an honorary degree. But it’s not just Cruz. Given that roughly four in ten Americans likely hate every CEO, too much association with even anodic POTUS is a problem in a fundraising-dependent industry such as higher education.
I just want to say that when Josh Hawley’s grandson is touring Stanford in a few decades, it’s a good bet that Grandpa, whether he lives in the White House or just hopes to get there someday, will stay home.
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