Former Vice President Joe Biden will deliver the commencement address to Columbia Law School’s graduating class on Wednesday, despite his history of plagiarism and academic embellishment.
Biden, who has sidelined himself from the campaign trail because of the coronavirus outbreak, will deliver the address virtually from his home in Wilmington, Delaware.
The dean of Columbia law said last month in announcing the former vice president’s address:
Vice President Joe Biden is synonymous with public service. Biden’s enduring and exemplary career as a leader, lawyer and public servant sets an example for our students as they prepare to begin their own course as legal professionals.
Biden’s address will follow similar ones made by former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, each of whom in recent weeks has opted to speak virtually to students graduating from college and high school as more traditional ceremonies have been canceled due to public health concerns.
Although it is unclear what the context of the former vice president’s speech will be, it has already begun drawing rebukes from some on the right, especially given Biden’s own history with higher education.
During his first presidential run for the 1988 Democrat nomination, Biden, then a United States Senator from Delaware, developed a tendency for embellishing his academic achievements.
“I went to law school on a full academic scholarship, the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship,” Biden told voters in New Hampshire in April 1987 when questioned about his academic record. He proceeded to cite an exhaustive list of his academic accomplishments — including having earned three bachelors degrees and being in the top half of his law school class—before suggesting that he and the man who had broached the initial question “compare” their levels of intelligence.
Those claims, though, quickly jeopardized his budding White House campaign. As the Washington Post reported in September 1987, Biden was not a star student by any means during either his undergraduate or law school years.
Biden’s “undergraduate academic records show that he graduated from [the University of] Delaware 506th in a class of 688 with a ‘C’ average,” the Post noted. Neither did he graduate with three bachelors degrees as claimed but rather a “dual major in history and political science.”
It also emerged that Biden had not only lied about receiving a full ride to law school, but he fell far short of being in the top half of his class — ranking 76 out of 85.
More troubling, though, was that Biden had been caught plagiarizing in law school. For a legal methods course, Biden lifted five pages from a published law review article and submitted them “without quotation or citation” in his own 15-page paper.
Biden said when admitting the plagiaris:
In the marketplace of ideas in the political realm, the notion that for every thought or idea you have to go back and find and attribute to someone is frankly ludicrous. I’ve done some dumb things, and I’ll do some dumb things again.
Despite the mea culpa, Biden’s credibility was too damaged for the electorate in 1988, especially since he had already been accused of plagiarizing the campaign speeches of other politicians and inflating his civil rights activism. Shortly after the Post’s exposé, Biden dropped out of the presidential race.
“I’m angry at myself for having been put in the position — put myself in the position — of having to make this choice,” Biden said when announcing his exit from the 1988 race.