It’s worse than you think,” wrote The New Yorker in 2016 about Trump University. NPR castigated it for offering no degree after four years and having no accreditation. Comedians like John Oliver dumped on it in a long produced segment.
Such was the coverage when Donald Trump was running for president four years ago.
It was not without some justification, as Trump University was little more than a diploma mill meant to cash in on Trump’s brand from “The Apprentice.” And his primary opponents made sure to point it out. But Trump University was closed in 2010, five years before he announced his candidacy.
In 2020, however, as Trump’s opponent Joe Biden gears up for the debates, there has been scant coverage of Biden’s ongoing conflicts of interest in higher education. This despite the fact that the two Biden “colleges” involve foreign cash, have no classes accredited or otherwise, and are largely staffed by his political cronies.
In February 2017, fresh off eight years in office and in the wake of a stunning election in which their party had been swept out of office, a number of former Obama Administration officials helped to launch the Penn Biden Center for Global Engagement. This University of Pennsylvania initiative supposedly was going to impart the secrets of statecraft from former Vice President Joe Biden to young, would-be foreign policy advisors.
Rather than locate this initiative on campus, however, Penn rented out expensive office space at 101 Constitution Ave. in Washington, D.C., across from Capitol Hill. The staff of the Penn Biden Center is composed almost exclusively of ex-White House and State or Defense Department officials for Biden and President Obama, even though Penn has a posted six-step hiring process for executive staff and must keep all documents on file for three years. What are the chances that such a process would come upon former Iran Nuclear Deal staffer Colin Kahl or lobbyist Daniel Erikson of Blue Star Strategies, a firm deeply entwined with Biden’s son Hunter in the Burisma natural gas scandal?
The Penn Biden Center, despite its stated mission, does not provide any academic instruction, and has not held an event since a 2017 Chicago conference, so one could be forgiven for not hearing about it or the $775,000 in salary that Biden has earned from it since its opening.
In May, the National Legal Policy Center, a conservative watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Department of Education demanding that the PBC disclose anonymous gifts, including $22 million that originated from the People’s Republic of China. But apart from the NLPC and local Philadelphia media, there has been virtually no media scrutiny surrounding the PBC’s funding, staffing practices, and lack of actual academic activity.
The Penn Biden Center has issued no academic reports, instead simply publishing and tweeting out opinion pieces written by its staff on foreign policy on niche sites like Balkan Insider. The entire operating profile of the PBC suggests that it is a washing machine for foreign monies dressed in a cap and gown for the benefit of former political appointees and Penn.
But the PBC was not enough, apparently. The University of Delaware also has the Biden Institute of Public Policy and Administration and the school’s renamed Biden School of Public Policy. Its vice chairman is Biden’s younger sister, Valerie Biden Owens, who the New York Times in February profiled as the manager of his previous Senate and presidential campaigns in 1988 and 2008.
Samantha Vinograd, a national security analyst at CNN and former National Security Council point person on Iraq under Obama, is a “senior advisor” at Delaware’s Biden Institute. The school’s managing director is Mike Donilon, the brother of former Obama National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and a veteran political consultant for Biden since 1981.
Politico in 2019 profiled Donilon as one of the aides assisting the former vice president in his battle to defeat the progressive Left and keep the party in the center. His UD executive salary is unknown as Delaware does not have a sunshine law requiring it to disclose such information for academic executives.
Meanwhile, according to Inside Higher Ed, UD has accepted $28.6 million not only from China, but also from Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. The only outcry to investigate these connections has come from three GOP House committee ranking members. The Biden School of Public Policy is ranked 38th in the country by U.S. News and World Report, while UD itself is ranked 39th among public colleges and universities.
The ties between the university and the state’s former senator go back beyond the founding of the institute and the renaming of the public policy school.
In 2008, it emerged that Hunter Biden’s old lobbying firm Oldaker, Biden & Belair had successfully lobbied for an earmark for UD. In April, as Biden was grappling once again with charges of sexual assault by former aide Tara Reade, his Senate archives housed at the university were the subject of demands for public disclosure. But as Fox News reported, its board of trustees rebuffed them. Board president John Cochran was Hunter Biden’s boss at credit card company MBNA during the 1990s and bought Senator Biden’s house in 1998 for $1.2 million. The same report documented campaign donations to Biden from seven other trustees.
Biden’s cronies at UD are not shying away from playing a hand in his current campaign, either.
In 2019 Mike Donilon received $20,000 as a consultant for American Possibilities PAC, a firm formed by Biden that received more than $36,000 from the official Biden for President campaign. Donilon is now the chief strategist for the campaign itself. The PAC’s former executive director, Greg Schultz, would later serve as campaign manager for the Biden campaign from April 2019 until March of this year.
The Democratic Party has championed diversity and intersectionality the past few years. Yet when perusing the public profile of its standard-bearer the only intersection that is reached is the one between his political appointees, the academic industrial complex, and anonymous foreign donors. Whereas Donald Trump has been hounded over allegations of sexual impropriety by women like E. Jean Carroll who have called rape “sexy” on live television, Biden’s most prominent accuser gets almost no airtime and records of her time in his office are sealed by a state university that clearly has a conflicted relationship with him.
All of these facts should worry anyone who expects Biden’s team, now incubating at these institutions, to take control next January.