Donald Trump famously touts his Ivy League degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School but many of the current students have little love for the president and his bid for reelection.
More than 340 current Wharton MBA students, in fact, have signed a letter endorsing Vice President Joe Biden in next week’s election. The message was straight forward: “While President Trump frequently boasts of his time at Wharton, absent from his presidency are the fundamental lessons in leadership we have learned and the core values that we embody,” says John Sonsalla, one of five second-year MBAs at Wharton who organized the effort.
Trump, of course, does not have an MBA from Wharton. He graduated from the school’s highly acclaimed undergraduate business program in 1968 after transferring to Penn in his junior year from Fordham University. During his first debate with Joe Biden, Trump again bragged that he had gone to a prestigious private university. His celebrity and his election as president of the U.S. has made him Wharton’s most famous alum. One of Trump’s marketing professors at Wharton, the late William Kelley, told a close friend that “Trump came to Wharton thinking he already knew everything.” The professor called Trump “the dumbest goddamn student I ever had,” according to Frank DiPrima, Kelley’s friend.
TWO OF THE FIVE MBA STUDENTS WHO SPEARHEADED THE EFFORT WORKED IN THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE
The campaign to reject Trump and embrace Biden was spearheaded by a group of students who have experience in government, campaigns and advocacy, including two of them who worked in the Obama White House. They include Kyla Griffith, the former chief of staff for Penny Pritzker of PSP Partners in Chicago who had also been a legal assistant in the Office of the White House Counsel; Benjamin Huntley, who had been the campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Bill Foster who won the Congressional seat for the 11th district in Illinois; Laura Johnsen, the former communications manager for U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy from Connecticut; Richard Ruffner, a former personal aide to Joe Biden, and Sonsalla, a former consulting advisor with the law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
The 345 signatures of students they have so far gathered represent about 20% of the roughly 1,770 currently enrolled MBA students at Wharton. “Beyond this group and our endorsement, the broader Wharton MBA student body has also been incredibly active in voter registration, canvassing, fundraising, and other efforts in support of the Biden campaign,” says Sonsalla. “Wharton MBA students have really embraced the swing state nature of Pennsylvania and dedicated their time to supporting the Biden campaign. As a native Pennsylvanian, it is really great to see.”
The endorsement by Wharton’s MBA students focuses primarily on the issue of leadership. “President Trump frequently boasts of his time at Wharton, but entirely absent from his presidency are the fundamental lessons in leadership we have learned and the core values that we embody,” according to the letter. “From the moment we started at Wharton, leadership was taught as a skill set – one that can be acquired and must be honed. It requires a willingness to listen, learn, and practice. Perhaps most importantly, leadership requires empathy, personal responsibility, and grit. A steadfast passion and perseverance in the pursuit and accomplishment of long-term goals.”
‘BIDEN KNOWS THAT SUCCESS IS THE PRODUCT OF TEAMWORK’
The students believe that Biden reflects the leadership skills they admire. “Vice President Biden has spent his career and his life embodying these traits. From the New Castle County Council, to the U.S. Senate, to the Vice Presidency, and now as the Democratic nominee for President, Vice President Biden has shown and continues to show that what unites us is far greater than what divides us and that while progress is not always easy, it is attainable if we work together.
“Vice President Biden also knows that success is the product of teamwork. Overcoming difficult obstacles and realizing opportunities requires building teams with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints, while instilling trust and empowering them to be innovative. Vice President Biden’s selection of Senator Kamala Harris to be his running mate, the inclusive slate of speakers we saw during the Democratic Convention, and his own campaign staff are early indicators of the diversity we can expect to see from a Biden administration.
“This endorsement is grounded in the belief that Vice President Biden is not only the best candidate to lead us through this ongoing time of crisis, but also to heal, reform, and unite this nation. By doing so, we will be better positioned to tackle inequality of opportunity, racial injustice, immigration reform, and other domestic challenges, while reasserting our global leadership on issues like climate change, human rights, and the defense against authoritarianism. Acknowledging and addressing these challenges – whether domestic or global, social or economic, new or longstanding – requires real leadership.
“When the Wharton community is able to safely return to campus next year, they will be greeted by a large banner still hanging from the ceiling of Huntsman Hall that reads “More Than Ever.” At this critical crossroads of our nation’s history, we need a principled leader that can deliver the truth, unite the country behind a shared vision, and carry us forward to a better America. We need Joe Biden in the White House, more than ever.”