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As part of a day officially celebrating the naming of the Joseph
R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration, a conversation
between Vice President Biden and noted author Jon Meacham brought a
stand-room-only crowd to Clayton Hall.
Special activities at the University of Delaware on Feb. 26 to celebrate the naming of the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration
in honor of the former vice president culminated with a wide-ranging
conversation between Biden and presidential historian Jon Meacham.
The conversation, held before an enthusiastic audience in the Clayton
Hall conference center, centered on the historical perspective that
Meacham presented in his newest book, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.
The afternoon began with a welcome to the first event held by
the newly named Biden School from its director, Maria
Aristigueta, the Charles P. Messick Chair in Public Administration, who
spoke about the schools mission of scholarship, public service and
Today, we are proud to put a name, a face and a legacy to that mission, she said.
UD President Dennis Assanis noted the historic significance of the
moment, not only for the school but for the University as a whole.
Few institutions are fortunate enough to be able to claim as an
alumnus a leader and public servant as distinguished as Joe Biden,
Assanis said in his introduction of UDs most famous graduate.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Maria Aristigueta, the Charles P. Messick Chair in Public
Administration and director of the Biden School, welcomes guests to the
conversation between Biden and Meacham.
It was at UD that Biden took his first steps toward a career
dedicated to values of civility, respect and the belief in the
possibility that every person carries within himself, Assanis said. By
affixing the Biden name to the essential work being done here, we are
reaffirming our commitment to integrity, to service and to excellence.
Biden described himself as humbled and honored by the renaming of
the school and praised professors who, he said, gave him confidence to
believe that he could make a difference in the world. He earned his
bachelors degree from UD in 1965 before embarking on a 36-year tenure
as a U.S. senator from Delaware and eight years as the 47th vice
president of the United States.
I owe this University a great deal, he said. I hope the Biden
School can convince a new generation of women and men that they can make
In his conversation with Meacham, he asked the Pulitzer Prize-winning
biographer why his latest book focused on turning points and dark
periods in American history and how the nation has always managed to
prevail and progress.
Charlottesville, Meacham said. I wrote the book because of Charlottesville.
UD President Dennis Assanis notes the historic significance of the
moment: "By affixing the Biden name to the essential work being done
here, we are affirming our commitment to integrity, to service and to
The 2017 white supremacist rallies and violence in Charlottesville,
Virginia, led him to research other periods in U.S. history such as the
Civil War, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, the rise of
demagogues and the anti-Communist crusades led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
Despite those dark times, Meacham maintains in the book that what
Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature have won out in
My argument isnt that things have been bad before, so everything
will be OK, he told the audience. Rather, its that without a sense of
proportion, we can become overwhelmed by the problems we face today.
History, he said, can give us that sense of proportion.
He and Biden went on to discuss the frustrations that many
Americans experience today as they sense a lack of fairness in sharing
the American dream. That can lead people to point fingers, Meacham said,
and they point fingers at people who dont look like them.
Biden asked about characteristics that have been shared by presidents
who were able to bring people together. Its all about temperament and
vision, Meacham said.
While most of the discussion focused on Meacham's new book, the
author did take the opportunity to ask Biden about his plans for 2020.
While most of the conversation between Biden and Meacham focused on
Meachams latest book, Meacham did take the opportunity at the
conclusion of the chat to pose a question about Bidens much anticipated
consideration of a presidential run in 2020. Biden responded he is in
the final stages of [making] that decision.
Theythe most important people in my lifewant me to run, he said,
describing the consensus of a recent family meeting. But, he said, he is
still exploring the details of what it would take to put a campaign
together and considering whether to proceed.
Their conversation was preceded by a series of policy luncheons at which
invited participants, including noted policy makers, government
officials, business and nonprofit leaders, community members, and UD
faculty and students, discussed topics of critical importance to
Americas future. Discussions addressed five areas of priority and
excellence for the Biden School: American politics and democracy;
disaster science and management; energy and the environment; health
care; and the middle class and urban affairs.
Celebrating the naming of the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of
Public Policy and Administration are (from left) President Dennis
Assanis, Valerie Biden Owens, Vice President Joe Biden, Jill Biden and
Eleni Assanis. Valerie Biden Owens, Joe Biden and Jill Biden are all UD
American Politics and Democracy focused on the current state
of Americas political discourse and the role academia and public
institutions play in ensuring democracy. UD faculty participants
included moderator Maria P. Artistigueta, Mike Donilon, K.C. Morrison
and Danilo Yanich, with special guest John Della Volpe, director of
polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.
Disaster Science and Management participants discussed
emerging research and practices as governments and policy makers work to
improve preparedness and response to an increasing number of natural
disasters. Faculty members included moderator Jim Morrison, James Kendra
and Joseph Trainor, with special guests Jarrod Bernstein, director of
response, recovery and resilience at Bloomberg LP; Meghan Hays,
executive director of enterprise communications at MGM Resorts; and
former U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida.
Energy and the Environment took UDs leadership and
expertiseit was the first in the U.S. to offer a doctorate and masters
degree in the combined fields of energy and environmental policyas the
basis of its discussion about the consequences of our impact on the
environment. Faculty participants included moderator Andrea Sarzynski,
Greg Dobler, Kalim Shah and Casey Taylor, with special guests David
Ellis, director of strategic communications and policy at Energy Futures
Initiative; W. Michael McCabe, principal with McCabe and Associates;
and Phil Sharp, fellow with the Center on Global Energy Policy at
Health Care focused on the pressing issues of expanding access
to health insurance and making health care and medications more
affordable. Moderated by Sarah Bianchi, chair of the Biden Institutes
Policy Advisory Board, the discussion included faculty members Karen
Stein, Katie Fitzpatrick and Steve Metraux, with special guest Howard A.
Zucker, commissioner of health for New York state.
Middle Class and Urban Affairs participants continued the
conversation that began in September, when hundreds of scholars,
nonprofit executives, students and others took part in the Biden
Challenge, a day committed to discussing strategies to revitalize
Americas middle class. Faculty members included moderator Chandra
Reedy, Dan Rich and Dan Smith, with special guests Stefanie Feldman,
director of policy for the Biden Institute; Don Graves, executive vice
president for corporate community initiatives and relations at KeyBank;
and Louisa Terrell, executive director of the Biden Foundation.
Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of presidential
biographies, is a distinguished visiting professor at Vanderbilt
University, a contributing writer for The New York Times Book Review and a fellow of the Society of American Historians.
His newest book, The Soul of America, was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and was named one of the best books of the year by NPR, The Christian Science Monitor and Southern Living. Reviewers have called it brilliant, fascinating [and] timely and Meachams declaration of his faith in America.
His previous books include the New York Times bestsellers Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power; American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House; Franklin and Winston; and Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.
The Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration
equips students with the knowledge and skills necessary to perform
research and public service activities that address pressing social and
economic problems and enhance the quality of life in communities in
Delaware, the nation and the world.
Through academic programs and research and public service centers,
the Biden School engages faculty, professional staff and students from a
variety of disciplines and diverse backgrounds in the classroom, on
public service project teams, and in collaboration with outside
Established in 1961 as one of the nations first university centers
focused on the challenges of urban America, the school has grown to
become a nationally and internationally recognized leader in public
A comprehensive school in the College of Arts and Sciences, it is
also known for research that can inform decision-making and policy,
improve leadership and management and address the critical needs of
The school was named for Biden in December 2018. It became the second
entity at the University to take the former vice presidents name,
following the 2017 launch of UDs Biden Institute, a research and policy
center that continues to be part of the Biden School.
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Evan Krape