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August 14, 2017

Report: Long before Wharton fell silent on Trump, the school touted its famous alum

Donald Trump is the only University of Pennsylvania alum to ever reach the Oval Office. Though other Ivy League institutions proudly tout the names of leading graduates who assume the presidency, like Barack Obama from Columbia University or the Bushes from Yale, Penn has stayed mostly silent during Trump’s rise.

It wasn't always that way, however. A new report from The Daily Pennsylvanian paints a different picture between Penn and Trump – a much closer relationship throughout the 1980s and 1990s that predated his presidency.

In 1987, Trump began a three-year term on the Penn Board of Trustees’ Wharton Board of Overseers, the Pennsylvanian notes, and he may have donated around $1.4 million to the school since graduating, though “his somewhat murky charitable giving pales in comparison to what other billionaire alumni have done,” the article reads.

As his political career has grown and his notoriety has skyrocketed, though, many Penn alumni have stood up against him, including some 3,800 students and graduates of Wharton who signed a petition saying, “You do not represent us.” 

After Trump’s travel ban was unveiled earlier this year, Penn broke its silence when President Amy Gutmann denounced the ban and said, “We will do everything in our power, speak to every friend and ally, and leave no stone unturned in our efforts to urge President Trump to change course and rectify the horrible damage this Order has caused.”

Trump’s role on Penn’s Board of Trustees, however, could be interpreted as a power move by the university to garner financial strength and high-profile exposure, as his value at the time was reportedly around $1 billion at least.

The Pennsylvanian spoke with several other Wharton alumni who recalled Trump’s time on the board.

“Trump would have been someone who could absolutely have helped them, both with contributing and raising money, and then, of course, with building the brand,” 1978 Wharton grad Catherine Austin Fitts told the paper.

The Pennsylvanian also notes Trump’s appearance in a 1988 promotional video to entice applicants looking for a similar high-profile career in business and entrepreneurship.

In 1996, Trump returned to campus to speak with Wharton undergrads about his success. In 1999, he sat opposite Chris Matthews in the campus auditorium and teased the idea of running for president.

Though Trump's role on the board and his appearances on Penn's campus were used to benefit Wharton's exposure, 2017 builds a very different picture. 

Late last year after the presidential election, The Pennsylvania Gazette, a publication specifically for and by Penn alumni, did not feature Trump on the cover of its issue, to the ire of many. 

"As every reader is surely aware but few anticipated, on November 8 Donald J. Trump W'68 was elected the 45th president of the United States and is the first University graduate to reach the office," the Gazette published at the time.

"Having noted that milestone, there's not much more we can say about the 2016 election that readers don't already know in detail and have their own feelings about. Winning the U.S. presidency may be the only alumni achievement capable of both delighting and bitterly disappointing large segments of the alumni community."