Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Dartmouth’s Financial Piñata


‘To the Editor:

Since I arrived in Hanover late last year, I have been moved by the intimacy and kindness of the Dartmouth community, bowled over by the capacity for meaningful scholarly output and impressed by the intense passion Dartmouth inspires.

Christopher C. Schons’ column “Dartmouth’s Investment Practices Raises Troubling Questions” reflects some of that passion, although unfortunately channeled to rehash allegations long ago dismissed by the authorities. He goes over familiar terrain referring to “questions” that have been answered multiple times in multiple venues for multiple audiences. Schons conveniently fails to acknowledge that the college responded to his latest inquiry just two weeks ago. What is worse, in the absence of any facts he uses innuendo to question Dartmouth’s integrity. There is in fact nothing to his assertions.

In October 2012, the New Hampshire Attorney General reviewed the anonymous claims repeated in the Schons column and found “no basis to conclude Dartmouth’s Trustees have violated state law by engaging in related party transactions involving the investment of a portion of Dartmouth’s endowment.”

Moreover, College policy imposes procedures that actually exceed the requirements under the law, including one directing that before being submitted for full Board of Trustees approval, each such transaction must be reviewed and approved by the Board’s Audit Committee, in addition to the Investment Committee.

In addition to this rigorous process, the performance of these related party investments testifies to their soundness. These investments have significantly out-performed the endowment portfolio as a whole over the past 15 years. Dartmouth is fortunate to have such talented and committed alumni on its Board.

As former Chair Ed Haldeman observed several years ago, Dartmouth could have a blanket prohibition on these investments, and if we did, we would never be second-guessed. But returns on the College’s endowment would have been substantially lower and the institution would not be as strong as it is today.

Vigilance, constructive criticism, and innovation help us herald the fine institution that Dartmouth is. Recycling long-ago dismissed allegations does not.


Thomas W. Bruce
Senior Vice President for Public Affairs
Dartmouth College

First of all, I have not made any allegations. I merely work from the fact, acknowledged by the college, that as of last year 13.5% of Dartmouth’s $3.5 billion endowment (or $472.5 million) is invested with firms controlled by current or past trustees or members of the college’s investment committee. If we assume as financial experts say we should that a 2% annual fee is charged on these funds, that means that nearly $10 million per year is going into the pockets of a handful of individuals associated with Dartmouth’s board of trustees. And that does not include any commissions on profits, which in the hedge fund industry amount to 20% of any gains. If this has been going on at this magnitude for the 15 years cited by Mr. Bruce in his letter, trustee-related firms have netted revenues from Dartmouth totaling well into nine figures. Yet, we are the ones who are “fortunate”?!! As the broadway song goes, being a Dartmouth trustee is “nice work if you can get it.”

Beyond these direct profits, the firms involved also gain the advantage of Dartmouth’s Ivy League imprimatur, which must be invaluable when promoting themselves among prospective clients. Yet the college receives nothing in return for having its name associated with the businesses in question.

As for Dartmouth’s protestation (and the state of New Hampshire’s concurrence) that no illegal acts have been committed, every observant person knows that there is often a breach between what is strictly legal and what is ethical. The college says that “Dartmouth could have a blanket prohibition on these investments, and if we did, we would never be second-guessed.”  That would be the proper route to take.

Dartmouth has decided to endure the appearance of trustee self-dealing because, it says, the financial gains to the endowment were too good to pass up. So, the message sent to the Dartmouth community, current undergraduates included, is: “Don’t worry too much about appearances if you can make an extra buck.” I would argue that a better message would be, “Financial strength matters, but not as much as ethical and reputational standing. And, in fact, you can relatively easily have both.” But the Trustees chose to compromise on one part of that equation.

Ethics aside, the specifics of the performance of the related-party investments remain murky. If it has been so stellar, why didn’t the trustees put 100% of the endowment in these funds? What is the riskiness of these investments? What if they had lost money? Would that change the ethical calculus at all? (It shouldn’t!) Moreover, the total US stock market in Dartmouth’s most recent fiscal year gained over 20%, while the college’s endowment grew by 12.1%. Remind me again who is “fortunate”?

Finally, Dartmouth’s answers (via an alumni liaison) to the specific questions raised in my original piece have been either vague or (mostly) non-existent. Dartmouth alumni still don’t know exactly how nearly half a billion dollars apparently has flowed to firms connected to the board of trustees or its investment committee, what the profits for these firms have been, nor whether any alum with financial acumen would be allowed to pitch investment ideas to the board.

In any case, as a putatively non-profit institution of higher learning, Dartmouth College should not serve as anybody’s financial piñata.

Christopher C. Schons, a graduate of Dartmouth College, lives in Arlington, Va.

This column originally ran in the Valley News

Christopher C. Schons holds an A.B. degree, received magna cum laude, from Dartmouth College. He can be reached at

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Inside the Invisible Government: War, Propaganda, Clinton & Trump
Andrew Levine
The Hillary Era is Coming: Worry!
Gary Leupp
Seven World-Historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003
Paul Street
Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Comfortably Dumb
Michael Brenner
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Trump Era
Luciana Bohne
Crossing the Acheron: Back to Vietnam
Robert Hunziker
The Political Era of Climate Refugees
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution was an Atrocity
Michael Munk
Getting Away With Terrorism in Oregon
T.J. Coles
Confronting China: an Interview with John Pilger
Pete Dolack
Work Harder So Speculators Can Get More
Joyce Nelson
Canadians Launch Constitutional Challenge Against CETA
John Laforge
US Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria
Paul Edwards
The Vision Thing ’16
Arshad Khan
Hillary, Trump and Sartre: How Existentialism Disrobes the Major Presidential Candidates
Peter Lee
It’s ON! Between Duterte and America
Chris Zinda
The Bundy Acquittal: Tazing of #oregonstandoff
Norman Pollack
America at the Crossroads: Abrogation of Democracy
Bill Quigley
Six Gulf Protectors Arrested Challenging Gulf Oil Drilling
Joseph Grosso
Starchitects in the City: Vanity Fair and Gentrification
Patrick Carr
Economic Racial Disparity in North Carolina
David Swanson
Public vs. Media on War
Chris Gilbert
Demo Derby in Venezuela: The Left’s New Freewheeling Politics
Ira Helfand
Nukes and the UN: a Historic Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons
Brian Cloughley
The US, NATO and the Pope
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Sam Albert
Kids on Their Own in Calais: the Tip of an Iceberg-Cold World
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Russell Mokhiber
Lucifer’s Banker: Bradley Birkenfeld on Corporate Crime in America
Ron Jacobs
Death to the Fascist Insect! The SLA and the Cops
Cesar Chelala
Embargo on Cuba is an Embarrassment for the United States
Jack Smith
And the Winner Is….
Ken Knabb
Beyond Voting: the Limits of Electoral Politics
Matt Peppe
An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
Uri Avnery
The Israeli Trumpess
James Rothenberg
Water Under the Bridge
Louis Yako
Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People
Dave Reilly
Complete the Sentence: an Exploration of Orin Langelle’s “If Voting Changed Things…”
Jonathan H. Martin
When Nobody Returns: Palestinians Show They are People, Too
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Simon Jones
The Human Lacunae in Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake”
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
Charles R. Larson
Review: Brit Bennett’s “The Mothers”