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Jim Kenyon: High-profile Dartmouth grads get mixed grades during pandemic

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

Valley News Columnist
Published: 6/13/2020 9:45:37 PM
Modified: 6/13/2020 9:45:34 PM

With this being commencement weekend, of sorts, in Hanover, I figure it’s a good time to bring up a few Dartmouth graduates who have stood out — and some who haven’t — during the coronavirus pandemic and the recent protests against police violence.

Here’s my list, starting with well-known figures who haven’t exactly been profiles in courage during these turbulent times.

Sen. Rob Portman, Class of 1978: The Ohio Republican has a reputation as a Donald Trump yes-man, siding with the president on his pet initiatives, including border wall funding and repealing Obamacare.

But Portman outdid himself recently when NBC correspondent Kasie Hunt asked him on camera for comment about the Trump administration’s use of federal security forces to forcibly clear peaceful protesters from the park outside the White House.

“I’m late for lunch,” Portman replied, without breaking stride in a Capitol Hill hallway.

On the plus side, he was wearing a mask.

Laura Ingraham, Class of 1985: The Fox News prime-time host attracts nearly 4 million nightly viewers, including the cable news junkie who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Early in the coronavirus outbreak, Ingraham was hawking the malaria drug hydroxycloroquine as a “game changer.” In April, she met with the president in the Oval Office to pitch him on the drug, The New York Times reported.

Last month, Trump announced he was taking the drug as a preventive measure. But now that studies have shown hydroxycloroquine is far from a miracle cure — and could do more harm than good in patients with heart troubles — Ingraham has moved on.

After the violent crackdown on protesters in Lafayette Square so Trump could get his Bible photo-op, Ingraham tweeted “False. No tear gas.”

The chemical canisters fired into the crowds actually contained pepper spray, she said. “There’s a big difference,” she tweeted.

Tell that to the protesters.

Alex Azar, Class of 1988: In January, the Secretary of Health and Human Services assured the public that the risk of the coronavirus in the U.S. was low.

By late February, Azar, a former drug company executive, appeared on his way out. Vice President Mike Pence replaced him as head of the president’s coronavirus task force. But Azar knew how to get back in the president’s good graces.

In an interview last month with CNN’s Jake Tapper (a 1991 Dartmouth grad), Azar said if not for the president’s “historic border control measures,” the results of the pandemic “could have been vastly, vastly worse.”

Now for a few Dartmouth graduates who are making a difference — in a good way.

Shonda Rhimes, Class of 1991: The creator of hit TV shows Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder is putting her fame — and access to her 1.8 million Twitter followers — to good use.

Rhimes is partnering with a group called #FirstRespondersFirst to provide front-line health care workers — not just doctors and nurses, but also hospital housekeepers and cafeteria cooks — with coronavirus safety equipment and supplies, along with offering day care for their children.

The organization raised nearly $4 million in its first three weeks.

Neal Katyal, Class of 1991: The Georgetown Law professor and MSNBC legal analyst is a leading voice against Trump’s authoritarian bent.

“Why does Trump trump everyone else’s rights as a U.S. citizen to be in the streets outside the White House?” he asked on MSNBC. “Why do protesters get tear-gassed and Trump gets a photo-op?”

Katyal is not just another talking head. He served as President Barack Obama’s acting Solicitor General and has argued 39 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, more than any other attorney of color.

Joel Hubbard, Class of 1982: A two-year football starter at offensive tackle, the pastor at Park United Methodist Church in Bloomfield, N.J., continues to work in the trenches.

During the coronavirus, Hubbard’s church, which has a congregation consisting mostly of minority working-class families, has been supplying groceries to about 250 households a week.

Volunteers from Park United and a nearby Jewish temple have distributed 30,000 pounds of nonperishable food, 20,000 pounds of produce and 5,000 loaves of bread.

“Whether we’ve had a few people come to the door, whether we’ve had hundreds come to the door, no one has ever been sent away without something to eat,” Hubbard said in an interview with The Forward, an online publication. (The story was recently republished on the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine’s website).

Bloomfield, a township just north of Newark with 50,000 residents, has had more than 1,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 60 deaths, including four members of Park United. “It’s been devastating to our community,” Hubbard told me in a phone interview.

On June 3, I wrote about the 125 international students, including several dozen people of color from poor countries, who have been stranded in Hanover since the coronavirus shut down the campus in March. The students continued to live in dorms and get takeout meals from a campus dining hall while taking classes online.

But with the spring term coming to an end, students were hearing the college wanted them out after they finished final exams.

On Thursday, Dartmouth told me that students who are unable to get home can remain on campus. The 37 students on financial aid “will not be financially responsible for summer room and board expenses,” spokeswoman Diana Lawrence wrote in an email.

Tehut Biru, a junior from Ethiopia, was among the students without a lot of money and no place to go. “This is great news,” she said.

Kudos to Dartmouth for doing the right thing.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at

Valley News

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West Lebanon, NH 03784


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