Buddy Fletcher: Financial Genius — or a Fake?
Young, African American, and rich, Buddy Fletcher was a dream alumnus for Harvard—a Wall Street philanthropist who gave millions to endow professors and support civil rights. And then his whole world came tumbling down.
Fletcher’s other philanthropic pledges also look less than impressive. He says he fulfilled half of his $50 million civil rights pledge, but there’s little evidence of it. His primary giving appears to have been the Fletcher Fellows program of $50,000 annual grants. There were 12 such fellows in 2005, but the number has dropped since then — there were only five in 2011. In eight years, total spending on the Fletcher fellows has been about $2 million. “It’s a pledge, not a commitment,” Fletcher told one interviewer.
Buddy Fletcher turns 47 this year, and in May, his class will return to Cambridge for its 25th reunion. But as bad news continues to pour in, Fletcher has adopted a low profile. He hasn’t been seen around the Dakota in months. That lawsuit is progressing, but most of the claims against individual board members have been dismissed. It’s hard to argue discrimination against a building that has sold you four apartments. Last fall, Fletcher and Pao put their San Francisco apartment on the market, and the future of Fletcher’s hedge fund is in jeopardy — the bad publicity and SEC investigation make it unlikely that he will be able to attract new capital. Fletcher is fighting for his professional life.
As for Harvard: “If it were determined that the Alphonse Fletcher professorship had been endowed by a fraudster,” says a university source, “and not just any fraudster, but the first major African-American donor to the college — it would be awkward.” That said, Harvard would almost surely not return any of Fletcher’s money, nor rename its professorship. Removing the name, after all, would be an enormous controversy. Says the Harvard official: “The question is, How dishonorable do you have to be to have your name taken off something?”