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School Pays Biden Healthy Stipend

Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.), the Democratic vice presidential pick, is the only Member of the Senate who is also being paid to be an adjunct university professor, and his pay for that job did not decline when he cut his teaching time in half five years ago.

According to Biden’s 2007 financial disclosure forms, he was paid a $20,500 “teaching stipend” by Widener University in Chester, Pa., which would place him in the high end of the pay scale for adjunct university professors.

Since September 1991, Biden has been an adjunct faculty member at the Widener School of Law, which has campuses in Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del. Biden team-teaches a seminar called “Selected Topics in Constitutional Law” with professor Robert Hayman. The class meets Saturday mornings, and, according to Hayman, Biden guarantees that he will be present for at least half of the class time.

Biden used to teach the course alone, Hayman said, but in 2003, the Senator “went to our dean … and told him he just didn’t have the time to teach anymore.” The two decided that “maybe a possibility to reduce the time in the classroom was by taking on a co-teacher … so they settled on me as his co-teacher, with the understanding then that while he wouldn’t be there for the whole class, he would be there for at least half the time.”

Biden spokesman David Wade said “Sen. Biden teaches with the approval of the Senate Ethics Committee and discloses his salary in his Senate Financial Disclosure form each year.”

Hayman said that he manages the administrative duties for the class and that he reads all of the student papers and proposes grades to Biden. The Senator may then suggest changes to the grades Hayman has suggested, but Hayman said that is rare.

“I haven’t had the audacity to ask when he has approved my grades, ‘Well, did you really read them?’” Hayman said.

The Senator remains heavily involved in designing the course syllabus and choosing topics for discussion, Hayman said, and Biden has been more active in suggesting grades for classroom participation. Biden’s primary role appears to be giving lectures and leading class discussions when he is present.

The course met for the first time Saturday, as Biden was being introduced as the Democratic vice presidential nominee. Hayman said that he and Biden spoke Friday and that the Senator still hopes to participate in the class this semester, but it is unlikely they will be able to arrange more than a single class visit. Even then, given Biden’s new national profile, it would be unlikely the event could be contained to a small seminar meeting on a Saturday morning. It is most likely that Biden will take a leave of absence for at least the fall semester, Hayman said.

Despite Biden’s apparent reduced workload when Hayman came on board, the Senator’s salary from Widener did not significantly drop. In 2001, he reported being paid $19,133 by the university; in 2002, his salary rose to $21,867; and in every year since, his salary has been $20,500.

Biden’s paycheck is double what Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) was paid last year for teaching a yearlong seminar at the Georgetown University Law Center.

A half-dozen House Members also are paid as adjunct faculty, but no other Senators are, and as Roll Call reported in July, some Members’ pay for part-time teaching gigs appears to be much higher than other adjunct professors. At the undergraduate level, adjunct faculty are usually paid anywhere in the range of $3,000 to $6,000 per course per semester, but experts in the field note that universities generally have broad leeway in adjunct faculty salaries. The pay scale is also generally higher in graduate programs and business schools.

Biden’s annual teaching salary makes him the third-highest-paid Congressional professor. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) was paid $22,500 last year to teach one course in the spring at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, and Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) earned $21,000 to teach a single course in both the spring and fall semesters at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, which is just outside his Congressional district.

Just behind Biden is Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who was paid $20,000 by Mills College in Oakland, Calif. — her alma mater — to team-teach a truncated course on politics for one semester.

Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) team-teaches a course at the University of Pennsylvania on organizational dynamics and essentially takes no salary. Brady’s financial disclosure form lists his income from Penn as $3.

Biden is not the only Member of Congress to teach at Widener. In 1999, then-Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) reported being paid $10,000 by Widener to team-teach a fall semester undergraduate course titled “Issues in American National Security.”

Mary Allen, a spokeswoman for the Widener School of Law, said that while the university does not disclose staff salaries, “there is a range of what adjuncts earn” and Biden “falls within the range … he is not the highest-paid adjunct.”

“We are very comfortable with what he earns,” Allen said. “It is clear to us he is not doing this for the money.”

The Senate Ethics Manual states that Senators must get prior approval from the Ethics Committee to accept a paid teaching job and that the compensation for teaching must be “reasonable and derived from the institution’s general funds,” not earmarks or appropriations.

Biden’s academic employer is also a supplicant before Congress. The university has employed lobbyists since 2001 to seek federal appropriations earmarks and has succeeded on several occasions. According to a White House earmark database, Widener received two earmarks in the 2005 appropriations cycle, one for just less than $1 million for a clinical psychology program and another for $99,000 for technology infrastructure upgrades at the law school’s Harrisburg campus.

In the first half of 2008, Widener has paid $40,000 to the National Group, a lobbying firm that includes William Oldaker, a longtime political ally of Biden’s. Oldaker has been active in several Biden campaigns and also represented the Senator in his 1989 appeal to the Federal Election Commission to allow him to accept Widener’s teaching job. Roll Call reported at the time that Biden asked the FEC to declare his teaching income a “stipend” instead of “honoraria,” which faced stricter limits.

The National Group is the lobbying arm of the law/lobbying firm of Oldaker, Biden & Belair, the second name belonging to Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son. Hunter Biden, a registered lobbyist, does not represent Widener and has not been listed as a National Group lobbyist since 2006.

Wade flatly dismissed any connection between Biden, Widener and Oldaker.

“This scurrilous allegation from the bowels of the RNC is as kooky as it is conspiratorial,” he wrote in an e-mail to Roll Call. “Joe Biden started teaching Constitutional law in 1991 while he was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, ten years before Oldaker Biden was even founded … Sen. Biden does not request earmarks for Widener. Hunter Biden does not represent Widener, and Widener has received earmarks from the Pennsylvania congressional delegation. Widener is represented by the National Group, which has no ties with Hunter Biden.”

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