The Biden administration is investigating whether elite universities violate federal civil rights law when they give preferential treatment to the children of alumni and donors.
Opposition to legacy admissions, however, may be an awkward policy position for President Joe Biden to wrap his arms around given that his own family has benefited from the practice. Five members of the Biden clan—two of Biden’s children and three of his grandchildren—have graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. In at least one instance, Biden called in a special favor with the president of the university to get his granddaughter admitted.
Now, the president wants to pull up the ladder from behind him. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights last week informed Harvard University it is investigating whether the school discriminates against minority students by admitting allegedly underqualified white applicants from wealthy and connected families. The investigation comes after a trio of liberal groups filed a lawsuit that claims Harvard’s legacy admissions practices violate the Civil Rights Act.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president believes "legacy admissions hold back our ability to build diverse student bodies."
Just five years ago, Biden was hoping the practice would benefit his granddaughter, Maisy Biden, who lacked the 4.0-plus GPA that is typically necessary to earn a spot at a school with a 5.9 percent acceptance rate, communications from a copy of Hunter Biden’s laptop show. She did, however, have a grandfather who knew the university’s president.
Biden spoke frequently with University of Pennsylvania president Amy Guttman about Maisy’s application, and Guttman kept Biden updated on the admissions process. She told him on Dec. 13, 2018, that Maisy had been deferred in the early admissions cycle, offering tips on how to boost Maisy’s application. Biden would pass those updates along to Maisy’s father, Hunter Biden.
Biden and Guttman communicated so often that the president expected to hear the news of Maisy Biden’s acceptance to Penn before she did. On March 13, 2019, Joe Biden texted Hunter Biden saying "If I hear before 1pm on [March 29, 2019,] I'll call immediately so you can call Maisy."
It’s a far cry from the typical college application process, which leaves millions of high-strung high school students frazzled and disappointed each year.
It is also identical to the practices left-wing groups railed against in their July lawsuit against Harvard. Legacy and donor admissions, they argue, "is conferred without regard to the applicant’s credentials or merits — the benefit is derived simply from being born into a particular family."
The University of Pennsylvania did not respond to a request for comment.
Few politicians in recent history have a closer relationship with a university than Biden and the University of Pennsylvania.
After he left the White House in 2016, the school became his de-facto base camp and housed a lavish office riddled with classified documents. On the campaign trail and in speeches, Biden wears his work with the University of Pennsylvania as a badge of honor, referring to himself as a former "professor," though he never taught a class. He was paid nearly $1 million by the school for a handful of lectures and events.
The school launched the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in 2018. Ostensibly devoted to "strengthening American Global Leadership for the Future," and "Engaging a New Generation," the think tank’s inauguration prompted an influx of donations from foreign nationals to Penn.
Chinese nationals, some of whom are linked to Hunter Biden’s past business dealings and the Chinese Communist Party, have given at least $105 million to the school from 2018 to mid-2022. Both the White House and UPenn have refused to provide a list of the Biden Center’s donors.
After Biden’s election, he gave Guttman one of the most coveted diplomatic posts in the country. She was confirmed as ambassador to Germany in 2022.
In total, two of the president’s children—his daughter, Ashley, and his late son, Beau—attended Penn. All three of Hunter’s children with his first wife, Kathleen Buhle, matriculated there as well.
Hunter Biden was so confident in the goodwill his family had with the university that he had plans to join the faculty himself. On December 29, 2018, he texted his uncle Jim Biden that he planned to work as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania after he broke his addiction to crack cocaine.
"That night I tell dad I want to probably stay in the area and specifically I wanted to live by you and teach my course at Penn and maybe develop another one," Hunter Biden texted.