At least half a dozen professors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School have called on the University of Pennsylvania to investigate an allegation that Donald Trump paid another person to take the SAT exam on his behalf and was therefore fraudulently admitted to Wharton.
The professors—all of whom teach ethics at Wharton—believe the university should revoke Trump’s 1968 undergraduate business degree if a probe can confirm the claim originally made by his niece in her best-selling, tell-all memoir published last month.
“When a student gains admission by fraudulent means, it undermines the integrity of our academic standards and fairness of our admissions process,” the professors wrote in a letter to Penn President Amy Gutmann. “Concerns about cheating are exacerbated when the alleged perpetrator is a public figure in high office. Failing to investigate an allegation of fraud at such a level broadcasts to prospective students and the world at large that the playing field is not equal, that our degrees can be bought, and that subsequent fame, wealth, and political status will excuse past misconduct.”
UNIVERSITY REJECTED THE DEMANDS ON THE GROUNDS THAT IT ‘OCCURRED TOO FAR IN THE PAST’
The letter was sent to Gutmann on July 16, little more than a week after the president’s niece Mary Trump alleged in her book, Too Much and Never Enough, that Trump paid a friend Joe Shapiro to sit for the SAT on his behalf (see To Get Him Into Wharton, Trump Allegedly Paid Someone To Take The SAT). Trump then leveraged the higher score to successfully transfer from Fordham University to the Wharton School in 1966, according to the book. Wharton Legal Studies & Business Ethics Professors Brian Berkey, Julian Jonker, William Laufer, Eric Orts, Amy Sepinwall, and Kevin Werbach signed the letter. They urged Gutmann to refer the matter to Wharton Dean Erika James and recommend that James investigate the allegations.
The university has since rejected their request. Provost Wendell Pritchett responded to the professors on behalf of Gutmann. “We certainly share your concerns about these allegations and the integrity of our admissions process,” Pritchett wrote. “However, as you suggest in your message, we have determined that this situation occurred too far in the past to make a useful or probative factual inquiry possible. If new evidence surfaces to substantiate the claim in the future, we will continue to be open to investigating it.”
The letters were disclosed by the student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, which also reprinted another demand by a prominent lawyer and alum of Penn’s Law School that also asked for an investigation into the president’s admission to Wharton. Stephen Sheller, a 1960 graduate of the university and a 1963 Penn JD graduate, adamant in urging a probe. “Although Trump is denying that he paid someone to take the SAT for him, he is known as an inveterate liar and it is likely that his niece is telling the truth,” wrote Sheller in a July 9 letter sent to Gutmann and David Cohen, chairman of Penn’s board of trustees.
‘AN INVESTIGATION WOULD SEND A STRONG MESSAGE OF INSTITUTIONAL INTEGRITY’
“In view of the fact that parents are being sentenced to prison for fraudulent pay-offs to have children admitted to different colleges at this time, I request that, under the circumstances, a blue-ribbon committee should be appointed by the University of Pennsylvania to make a full examination of Donald Trump’s admission to the Wharton School,” added Sheller.
After Pritchett rejected the professors’ demand for an investigation, they wrote a second letter back to him on July 21 in which they charged that refusing to look into the allegation could undermine the university’s integrity. “Even if an investigation initiated by Penn and Wharton would, as you predict, ultimately fail to arrive at a definitive finding, the very fact of authorization [sic] an investigation would send a strong message of institutional integrity,” they wrote. “An absence of administrative action risks making the most powerful statement to the contrary — that we don’t care about the integrity of our admissions process — a statement wholly inconsistent with the bedrock values of our university community.”
The latest controversy follows widespread reports that Trump was admitted to Wharton with the help of a friend, and once at the school, he failed to excel despite his own claims that he was first in his class,. Wharton’s Dean List, representing the top 15% of the class, failed to include Trump in the year of his graduation. A 1968 Commencement Program also showed that Trump failed to graduate with any honors, despite his previous claim that he was first in his graduating class. One of Trump’s marketing professors at Wharton, the late William Kelley, apparently thought little of Trump when he was a student. A close friend of the professor, Frank DiPrima, has said that Kelley told him 100 times over three decades that “Donald Trump was the dumbest goddam student I ever had.”
WHITE HOUSE CALLS SAT CHEATING ALLEGATION ‘FALSE’ AND ‘ABSURD’
In her book, Mary Trump wrote that after graduating from military school and living at home with his parents and commuting to Fordham, Trump wanted to apply to Wharton but worried that his grades alone wouldn’t allow for his admission, according to the book.
Mary Trump noted that Donald’s sister, Maryanne, “had been doing his homework for him,” but that she couldn’t take standardized tests in his place. “Donald worried that his grade point average, which put him far from the top of the class, would scuttle his efforts to get accepted. To hedge his bets he enlisted Joe Shapiro, a smart kid with a reputation for being a good test taker, to take his SATs for him. That was much easier to pull off in the days before photo IDs and computerized records. Donald, who never lacked for funds, paid his buddy well.”
A White House spokesperson has called the allegation by Mary Trump “false” and “absurd.” The claim then resurfaced over the weekend after Mary Trump turned over audio recordings of the president’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, to the Washington Post. The audio excerpts contain the allegation from Barry that Trump cheated on the SAT.
TRUMP IS ‘THE WORST ADMISSIONS MISTAKE THAT THE WHARTON SCHOOL HAS EVER MADE’
In an interview with the student newspaper, Wharton Professor Orts called Trump “the worst admissions mistake that the Wharton School has ever made. Now it turns out that we may not have made a mistake after all: we may well have been just another victim among many who have had their reputations besmirched by his lifelong pattern of deception and fraud.”
Orts, who has taught at Wharton since 1991 and is on the editorial board of Business Ethics Quarterly, suggested that the university may fear attracting the Twitter wrath of Trump. “Maybe Trump can exact retribution in some way,” Orts told the newspaper. “But that is not a reason not to pursue an allegation that is credible about whether he committed fraud against us. “Sometimes you have to stand up for a principle. And the University of Pennsylvania, in my opinion, is certainly big enough to stand up to a bully.”
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