The XX Factor

Jill Biden’s Rate My Professors Page Is a Strangely Comforting Place in Perilous Times

Jill Biden arrives to speak during the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 27, 2016.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Jill Biden was reportedly the first person to maintain a paying job during her tenure as second lady. By the time her husband became Barack Obama’s running mate, she had been a writing instructor at a Delaware community college for well over a decade, and she continued teaching throughout the 2008 campaign. When her husband assumed the vice presidency, she moved to Washington and began teaching at Northern Virginia Community College as an adjunct. A representative for the college confirmed she is still teaching there this semester.

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“She does the things that regular faculty members do,” an administrator told the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012. That includes attending faculty meetings, serving on committees, and holding office hours.

Luckily for America, it also includes being subjected to the slings and arrows of Rate My Professors. The website, founded in 1999, invites college students to anonymously review their instructors and weigh in on important matters like their attendance policy, how much homework they give, and how hot they are. And Dr. Jill Biden’s Rate My Professors page is a strangely comforting space in perilous times.

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The most recent review is from Dec. 27:

Dr. Biden is an excellent professor who is inspirational in all ways. Many do well in her class, those who don’t often complain that she is “hard” and “expects too much”. She is incredibly gentle and not very demanding, and turns even ESL students into proficient writers if they put in a little effort. Put in work and you’ll easily succeed.

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Almost none of the posts even hint at Biden’s other life as second lady:

Loved her class! Dr. B is an amazing professor. She gives tough criticism but, it’s exactly what you’ll need to improve your writing skills. I’ve improved a lot, thanks to her class!

Even the negative opinions are apolitical:

READ THIS!!! NEVER EVER MAKE MISTAKE TO GO IN HER CLASS. NO MATTER HOW HARD WORKER AND EXCELLENT STUDENT YOU ARE, SHE WILL PUT YOU DOWN TO HURT YOUR SELF CONFIDENCE. ACTUALLY SHE IS NOT THERE TO TEACH, SHE IS JUST THERE TO SHOW HER ATTITUDE, SHE IS TOO OLD TO BE A PROF. AND SHOWING RUDNESS AND ATTITUDE, IT’S BETTER FOR HER TO STAY HOME. TOO BAD.

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Biden’s older ratings from Delaware Technical Community College, mostly written before she took the national stage, are also worth perusing: “I’ve always hated and feared English class, but Mrs. Biden made it easy.” “Goes out of her way to make you understand.” “Very smart. Dresses nicely.”

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The ratings are compulsively readable in part because they feel like a peek at a famous person’s “real” life. In that, they are similar to the pleasures of looking up other celebrity professors on the site. Peter Singer: “I found his class to be extremely boring.” Robert Reich: “My favorite part was that there were no tests.” The late Elie Wiesel: “Don’t dare ask him about the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people!” James Franco: “James seems sleepy and distracted and doesn’t give feedback because he doesn’t read our writing.” If you’re going to read anonymous reviews, read those written by imperious, self-obsessed 19-year-olds.

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Unlike most celebrity professors, the classes “Dr. B” stands in front of are not glamorous. Community colleges emphasize teaching over research; in the 2015-16 school year, she taught a full load of five English classes. “I have papers with me at all times,” she told an interviewer a few years ago. “I’m constantly grading.” Developmental English, one of her standard courses, is meant for students whose basic grammar and reading comprehension skills are not yet ready for college-level English classes. She has said that some of her students didn’t even realize that she was married to the vice president.

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It’s instructive to compare Biden with Melania Trump, in particular. Our current first lady seems to have little interest in the role, for one. But the interest she does have seems nakedly mercenary. She is currently suing the Daily Mail because an unflattering story would spoil her “unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to develop a series of commercial products including shoes, cosmetics, and perfume lines, “each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which Plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world.”

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Joe Biden, meanwhile, joked in 2014 that he was “the poorest man in Congress.” It wasn’t a good look for a man who earns more than $200,000 a year. But it’s true that the Bidens were known as one of the least wealthy families in the upper echelons of Washington. Jill Biden earned $85,765 as a professor in 2015, according to the couple’s tax return. That’s a lot for a community college professor, but not a lot for the wife of one of the most powerful men in the world. Not by Melania Trump’s standards, anyway.

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