Wharton students to Trump: You do not represent us

Adam Howard
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Joshua Roberts | Getty Images

Donald Trump loves to name-check his alma mater, the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. His two-year tenure at the school is an important pillar of his public persona that he's used not only to burnish his business credentials but to contrast his academic pedigree with his political rivals.

But some members of the Wharton community are fed up with their famous alumnus.

A recent open letter, penned by current and former Wharton students and directed at their own brethren as well as the public at large, has a stern and unequivocal message for the real estate mogul: "You do not represent us."

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"At the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, students are taught to represent the highest levels of respect and integrity. We are taught to embrace humility and diversity. We can understand why, in seeking America's highest office, you have used your degree from Wharton to promote and lend legitimacy to your candidacy," the open letter reads.

"As a candidate for president, and now as the presumptive GOP nominee, you have been afforded a transformative opportunity to be a leader on national and international stages and to make the Wharton community even prouder of our school and values. However, we have been deeply disappointed in your candidacy."

The letter, which has already garnered more than 500 signatures from students, alumni and faculty in the week since it was made public, goes on to criticize the GOP contender for using his affiliation with the school to "legitimize prejudice and intolerance."

"The Wharton community is a diverse community. We are immigrants and children of immigrants, people of color, Muslims, Jews, women, people living with or caring for those with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community. In other words, we represent the groups that you have repeatedly denigrated, as well as their steadfast friends, family and allies," the letter reads.

Trump has been widely criticized for a plethora of inflammatory public statements that have been directed at the American Muslim community as well as undocumented immigrants, some of whom Trump has alleged are criminals and "rapists." Trump has also been accused of mocking a disabled reporter, trafficking in sexism and providing a forum for white supremacists to espouse their beliefs.

"It was important for us to speak out against Trump because, as we have seen in many moments throughout history, silence is an act of complicity," the letter's co-authors told NBC News in a statement Friday. "This open letter speaks on behalf of Wharton students, alumni and faculty who wish to speak out against hate and stand in solidarity with all members of our diverse community -- both at Wharton and across America."

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump
John Sommers II | Getty Images

This is also not the first time Trump has been rebuked by the Wharton community. In February, at a mock caucus held by the Government and Politics Association at Penn, where more than 120 of the school's students were polled for the presidential preferences, only one identified themselves as Trump supporter.

While in the past it's been reported that Trump graduated at the top of his classwith honors, that notion has since been repeatedly debunked, with at least one 2001 book suggesting that he gained entry to the school in the first place due to family connections with a member of the admissions office.

And while Trump has recently boasted about his "super genius" time at Wharton, he doesn't have a widely publicized history of donating significant amounts of money to the school (despite his purported billionaire status) and in his own best-selling 1987 book "The Art of the Deal" he wrote: "Perhaps the most important thing I learned at Wharton was not to be overly impressed by academic credentials ... That degree doesn't prove very much."

Still, when the school commemorated its 125th anniversary nearly a decade ago, Trump was listed as one of the institution's most "influential" former students. And three of his children, Ivanka Trump, Tiffany Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., have all followed in his footsteps, earning degrees at Wharton.

An informal survey of the faculty conducted by CNBC last summer determined that there was a "fairly even split" between those who believe Trump's image was hurting the school versus those who felt it had no effect at all.

Meanwhile, a nascent "Penn for Trump" group on campus was disbanded shortly after the candidate rolled out his Muslim ban idea. "At the beginning of the campaign, Donald was speaking his mind, saying what he meant," freshman Patrick Lobo, who organized the group, told the Financial Times last month. "I was attracted to his lack of Washington connection. But [after his divisive comments] I just felt that as a student on this campus, as an individual that comes in contact with diversity, as derogatory as they were, he just wasn't acting and speaking presidential."

Jason Toff, a product manager at Google who graduated from Wharton in 2008, shared the open letter on his Facebook page two days ago and he says that the response has been overwhelming.

"I've never had a post re-shared so many times. It seems like there are many, many people who feel the same way," he told NBC News on Friday. "My hope would be two things for Wharton's sake ... that they are not tarnished by this madman and that Trump throwing around that he went to Wharton doesn't mean he's right about the things he's saying."

According to Toff, while he attended Wharton the student body was pretty politically diverse and Trump was viewed largely as "the silly guy from 'The Apprentice,'" and not an inspirational business figure worth emulating. "I've never heard his name come up in any such conversation," he said.

"People have a certain image of Wharton and Wharton alumni that they're overly aggressive and financially motivated, and I have to fight that perception," he said. "When [Trump] started associating himself with Wharton it sucked for me and the majority of [alumni] who feel the same way. It's unfortunate and if anything, it makes me embarrassed."

In Toff's experience most Ivy League graduates are reluctant to try to curry favor based on the prestigious name recognition of the schools which they attended. According to Toff, Trump "is like a sad exception to that rule."