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Jim Kenyon: Dartmouth offers no admission about ex-committee member in Varsity Blues scandal

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Columnist
Saturday, June 01, 2019

Doug Hodge was just what Dartmouth looks for in an alum to serve on its investment committee that oversees the college’s $5.5 billion endowment.

He was rich, wildly successful in the world of high finance and a white male to boot. (In fiscal year 2019, seven of the committee’s eight voting members were white men. In 2018, it was eight of nine.)

When Dartmouth appointed Hodge, class of ’79, a couple of years ago, he had just retired as CEO of Pimco, one of the world’s largest bond managers. In 2013, while Hodge was the California investment management company’s chief operating officer, Bloomberg View reported he received a $45 million year-end bonus.

Regardless of Hodge’s ability to make money for himself and his clients, Dartmouth must have breathed a sigh of relief when he quietly stepped down from the investment committee in mid-March.

On March 12 — five days before he resigned from the investment committee — Hodge, 61, was implicated in the nationwide college-admissions investigation the FBI has dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.”

He’s among nearly three dozen mega-wealthy parents, including Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, accused of using “bribery and other forms of fraud” to get their teenage children into Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, University of Southern California and other schools.

Hodge, of Laguna Beach Calif., has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit fraud. He’s scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Boston, where the case originated, for a status hearing on Monday.

Last week, I talked with Brien O’Connor, one of Hodge’s attorneys at the Boston firm Ropes & Gray. “We can’t comment at this time due to the ongoing litigation,” said O’Connor, a former federal prosecutor and one of the nation’s leading white-collar defense lawyers. (Full disclosure: My son is an attorney in Ropes & Gray’s corporate department in Boston. The firm has 1,400 lawyers worldwide.)

When I asked about Hodge’s decision to step down from the investment committee, O’Connor said, “Mr. Hodge feels privileged to be able to have served Dartmouth, an institution that he dearly loves.”

Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence had no comment on the matter, beyond providing the date of Hodge’s resignation.

That’s understandable. The last thing the college needs during its current $3 billion capital campaign is more bad publicity. They’re already dealing with a $70 million class-action lawsuit by nine former female students that alleges the college failed to respond adequately to complaints of sexual misconduct by three professors.

In his college yearbook, Hodge lists his hometown as Greenwich, Conn. An economics major, who later earned an MBA at Harvard, Hodge played football and baseball for two years. He was also vice president of Alpha Delta, the infamous Dartmouth frat that inspired the 1978 Animal House movie.

In online court documents, the feds allege that Hodge paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to William “Rick” Singer, the scheme’s ringleader, to get two of his children into USC by bogusly making them into sports recruits. (The FBI affidavit doesn’t give a total amount that Hodge allegedly paid, but my reading of the documents puts it at about $450,000.)

The feds allege that Hodge — with the help of Singer and Donna Heinel, a senior administrator in USC’s athletic department — fabricated a “sports resume” to send to the school’s admissions office that claimed his daughter was a member of an “All-National (Soccer) Championship Tournament Team.” After enrolling at USC in 2013, the girl didn’t play soccer.

The scheme worked so well, Hodge used it again two years later to get a son into USC, prosecutors say. This time, a false athletic profile portrayed his son as a football team captain at a private school in New Hampshire. (The affidavit doesn’t name the school.) In 2017, Hodge’s son followed his sister to USC, but he didn’t play football.

Heinel, the USC administrator who allegedly ushered the boy’s application through the admissions process, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering.

No students or universities have been charged with wrongdoing in the scam. But 10 college coaches and former coaches of sports, ranging from water polo to women’s soccer, are accused of accepting millions of dollars to help students gain admission at top schools.

Which leads me to ask: Although not mentioned in any court documents, could Dartmouth be involved?

Lawrence, the college’s spokeswoman, told me in an email last week that “after the Operation Varsity Blues fraud surfaced, Dartmouth administrators reviewed the admitted student data from the last three entering classes and determined that no Dartmouth coach had supported an inappropriate candidate.”

That’s reassuring. But why stop there? Hodge’s departure opens the door for Dartmouth to start restructuring the makeup of its investment committee.

At the time of Hodge’s resignation, the committee’s eight voting members were white. Only one was a woman. (President Phil Hanlon and Board of Trustees Chairwoman Laurel Richie, who is African American, are non-voting members.) The college’s 2018 endowment report boasts that all members have “significant experience in the investment industry.”

Does that mean it must be a mostly boys club?

Along with making the committee more race- and gender-diversified, the college could add a few alumni from outside the financial world. They might bring a fresh perspective. And even raise the committee’s social conscience.

It’s probably wishful thinking. Dartmouth rarely makes that kind of change, unless the spotlight is shining brightly.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.