Last February, the University of Pennsylvania purged the name of Steve Wynn, an alumnus and major donor, from its campus after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced in a news report by the Wall Street Journal. The Ivy League school cited the accusations of harassment as conduct that was “inimical to the core values” of the university as reason for the removal.
Given that precedent, the school must take similar action against former Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden was accused of sexual harassment, inappropriate touching, and “demeaning and disrespectful” behavior by Lucy Flores, a former Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in Nevada, at a campaign event in 2014. He has been accused by six other women of inappropriate touching, including an April 1 report dating back to a 2009 political fundraiser.
Currently, Biden is a University of Pennsylvania Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice professor. He’s also the namesake of the university’s Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
Penn has a Biden problem. After the Wynn incident, Penn championed itself as a bastion of justice in the “reckoning regarding the role and extent of sexual misconduct in all areas of society.” The university emphasized “moral leadership” in the decision. A week after Penn purged Wynn’s name, it opened the Penn Biden Center.
Keeping the center open under Biden’s name — and maintaining his professorship — following the most recent accusations undercuts the university’s claim to “moral leadership.”
The cases of Wynn and Biden have their differences, and it is important to not paint all forms of harassment with a broad brush. The accusations against Wynn include numerous women who claim he sexualized the workplace and harassed and coerced female employees, including demands for naked massages.
However, the point is not that Wynn and Biden have faced equally severe allegations. They haven’t. It’s that by cutting ties to Wynn days after allegations surfaced and justifying that move from a position of moral authority, Penn set a precedent to be a leader on this issue.
Biden’s inappropriate touching frequently gets dismissed — by celebrity friends and political supporters — as his being affectionate, grandfatherly, just “Joe being Joe.” Yet there’s a line of respect that frequently gets crossed for which Biden is never held accountable. Biden’s position as a man in power and disturbing history of wandering hands and inappropriate touching that violates women’s boundaries seemingly speak to core tenets of the #MeToo movement. As such, Penn’s hypocritical behavior towards Biden is troubling. It’s worth asking whether the former vice president would get so many passes if he were, like Wynn, a Republican.
In 2019, there should be a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior toward women. After all, while Wynn may have had the more egregious accusations, Biden’s actions crossed a line of respect. Clearly he was not touching men the same way he was touching women.
Biden is scheduled to appear again at Penn on Thursday for a symposium on the opioid epidemic. For the university to not make any statements regarding the accusations against a former vice president who is now a faculty member delegitimizes the school’s attempt to take a strong stance against sexual misconduct.
Furthermore, Penn’s silence and refusal to comment reinforces the increasingly visible trend of elitist privilege — as we’ve seen in the recent college admissions scandal, and the dropped charges against Jussie Smollett — that fails to hold certain people accountable so long as they have the right connections. Those low standards have no place in moral leadership — nor in respecting and protecting women in the 21st century.