NEWARK, Del. — Joe Biden returned Monday to the University of Delaware, to launch an institute at his alma mater that will tackle public-policy issues he encountered in federal government, from civil rights and domestic violence to health care and economic reform.
But the former vice president and longtime U.S. senator from Delaware voiced a broader concern as he addressed a crowd inside the Roselle Center for the Arts, where he recalled the lessons that launched his career in public service.
"All my professors talked about being involved in the political process" as "the noblest undertaking you could pursue," said Biden, who was a senator for 36 years before serving under President Barack Obama.
"Hardly any of you believe that sitting in front of me today," he said. "I'm not being critical. …With good reason, you don't believe it."
But "you can be engaged, be engaged honorably, without fear of tarnishing your character," Biden said. "That's what we need now, in both parties."
The institute will be nonpartisan. Students "need not share my political view on any of the issues," Biden said. But "I hope I can convince them to share my view that they have an obligation, they have an opportunity, and they have the capacity" to participate in politics.
Biden was joined by Maria Aristigueta, the chair of the university's School of Public Policy and Administration, and university president Dennis Assanis, who introduced Biden as "family."
The institute is one of two academic centers Biden is heading now that his time as vice president is over. At the University of Pennsylvania, he will lead a center focused on diplomacy, foreign policy, and national security that will be based in Washington.
The Delaware institute, which Biden said he hopes will "write and produce policy," will focus on domestic issues. "What I'm going to be working on here will be more immediate, and I suspect more consequential," in terms of affecting the national debate, Biden said after the event.
Though he said bipartisanship had become too uncommon — which he attributed to the campaign-finance system and "the nationalization of local political races" — Biden expressed optimism that leaders could reach consensus on issues such as violence against women, environmental sustainability, and electoral reform.
"The vast majority of members of Congress took a wide yawn when the president said three million votes were stolen," Biden said, referring to a claim President Trump made without evidence about voter fraud in the November election.
"A whole range of things have no ideology attached to them," Biden said. He hopes the center will be "a catalyst" for change, bringing together political leaders.
"The public is so sick and tired of the political carnage going on," he said. "If I can sit with a Mitch McConnell before the whole world watching and people see how we actually can interact and get things done, I think it will generate that kind of consensus on a local level as well. So I'm optimistic."
The institute will not be a political organization, Biden said. But it will weigh in on policy proposals, at times "exposing the paucity of views by others," which could include the current administration, he said.
Working with him at the institute will be his sister and longtime campaign manager, Valerie Biden Owens, and Mike Donilon, a former White House counselor to Biden.
Separate from his university work, Biden said, he will continue to play a role as a political figure.
That will sometimes involve speaking out against Trump. "It's bizarre what's happening," Biden said of recent attacks by the president on the press. "Any effort to delegitimize our press is the stuff of which oligarchs engage in."
"I'm not going away," he said. "I'm still Joe Biden."