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Penn professor renews call for investigation into how Trump was admitted to the university

Eric W. Orts is one of six faculty members who asked Penn's provost earlier this summer to launch an investigation into how Trump transferred into the school.

President Donald Trump
President Donald TrumpRead moreAndrew Harnik / AP

A professor at the University of Pennsylvania has renewed a request to investigate how President Donald Trump was admitted to the school in 1966, citing what he called "new evidence" on secretly recorded tapes in which Trump's sister says a friend took his entrance exam.

The professor, Eric W. Orts, is one of six faculty members who asked Penn's provost earlier this summer to launch an investigation into how Trump transferred into the school. He noted that the president's niece, Mary Trump, wrote in her book published in July that the president paid someone to take his SATs.

The provost, Wendell E. Pritchett, replied to Orts on July 20 that "we certainly share your concerns about these allegations and the integrity of our admissions process. 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."

Orts, a professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School, said he contacted Pritchett after The Washington Post on Saturday published a story that included audio of conversations Mary Trump recorded in 2018 and 2019 with Maryanne Trump Barry, the president's sister.

In one tape, Barry said she did her brother's homework for him and that "I drove him around New York City to try to get him into college." She said Donald Trump "went to Fordham for one year [actually two years] and then he got into University of Pennsylvania because he had somebody take the exams."

In their initial letter, the six professors wrote that “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.” The school’s rejection of the July request was reported by the Daily Pennsylvanian, a student-run publication.

After The Post published the recording online last weekend, Orts said he emailed Pritchett that the audio constituted the kind of “new evidence” that the provost said was needed to launch an investigation.

Orts said he had not heard back from Pritchett. The provost and his spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. Orts is a registered Democrat but said he is seeking the investigation on moral, not political, grounds. He provided the text of Pritchett's email to The Post, and he said he wrote the follow-up request individually, not with the group that asked for the initial investigation.

Barry said in one of the tapes that the person who took the test was named Joe Shapiro. Trump knew a person with that name at Penn, but his widow and sister told The Post that he would have never taken a test for Trump, and they said he didn't know Trump until he attended Penn, so the timing was not right. Mary Trump has said it was a different Shapiro, but that person has not come forward or been identified.

The White House declined to comment for this article. Before the existence of the tapes was known, White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said the allegation that someone took the SATs for Trump was "completely false." Trump, responding on Saturday to The Post's report about the tapes, said "Who cares?" and did not dispute their authenticity. Barry has not responded to requests for comment.

Starting in 1964, Trump went to Fordham in New York City for his freshman and sophomore years and then transferred in 1966 to Penn's undergraduate Wharton School of Finance. Trump has said that he was admitted to the "the hardest school to get into, the best school in the world," calling it "super genius stuff."

Trump has contrasted his own intellect with that of others and made an issue of releasing transcripts, saying in 2011 that he questioned how President Barack Obama got into Columbia University and Harvard Law School and challenged him to substantiate how he was admitted.

"How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?" Trump asked in a 2011 Associated Press interview. "I'm thinking about it, I'm certainly looking into it. Let him show his records."

Trump has not released his own records, and an investigation by The Post last year found that his claim that Wharton was the hardest school to enter was not substantiated.

The Post reported last year that the Penn admissions official who interviewed Trump was a close friend of Fred Trump Jr., the brother of Donald Trump and father of Mary Trump. That former official, James Nolan, said that it wasn't difficult to get into Penn at that time, with more than half of applicants granted admission and an even higher percentage of transfer students. By comparison, the admission rate last year to Penn was 7.7%.

"It was not very difficult," Nolan said last year about Trump's admission in 1966, adding: "I certainly was not struck by any sense that I'm sitting before a genius. Certainly not a super genius."

In an interview Thursday, Nolan said Penn did require that an applicant submit SAT scores in order to be considered for admission. Typically, Nolan said, a transfer student would have taken the SAT to get into the initial school and those scores would then be submitted to Penn.

A Fordham spokesman said the school required SATs for entrance at the time Trump attended. The spokesman declined to comment when asked whether the school would investigate Trump's application.

Nolan said that, given the taped conversations with Trump's sister, there may be enough information for the school to launch an inquiry at Penn. It does not matter if the SATs were taken to gain entrance to Fordham, he said, because the same scores would have been required to be submitted to Penn.

"The allegation was made," Nolan said. "If indeed he falsified his application - even though it is [54] years ago - his admission should be withdrawn and therefore his degree would be null and void."

Nolan said the school could try to determine if Trump's admission records are stored in its archives. Such information is not publicly available because of privacy laws. Even if the records are found, it could be difficult to determine if someone else took the test for Trump.

Nolan, while stressing that he had no knowledge if someone else took Trump's test, said it would have been easier decades ago for someone to take a test for another person. He said that he sometimes proctored SAT exams at the time, and he recalled that students submitted a paper stating who they were, but doesn't recall such information being checked as rigorously as it is today.


The Washington Post’s Alice Crites contributed to this report.