On August 16, seven days after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Mo., DeRay McKesson ’07 left everything and drove to St. Louis. He did not know a single person in the city and initially planned to stay for three days just to witness what was happening in the aftermath of Brown’s death.
He ended up staying for much longer, sleeping on the couch of another Bowdoin alum and using social media, primarily Twitter, to share stories of protests against police violence and racism.
He now has over 76,000 followers on Twitter and is nationally recognized for his work in St. Louis. McKesson received the Howard Zinn Freedom to Write Award and was named one of the world’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine.
Before his experiences in St. Louis McKesson had worked as a sixth grade math teacher in Brooklyn, at the Harlem Children’s Zone and had started an academic enrichment center in Baltimore.
McKesson spoke to close to 300 students, faculty, staff and community members last night in Kresge Auditorium.
He began his talk by remarking about his understanding of the Offer of the College.
“It has always been such a radical promise about what education can be and what a society can be,” said McKesson. “When I think about coming back here of all the places that I have been fortunate enough to speak about the protests it means something particular to me mostly because of what I believe the Offer promises.”
McKesson was quick to juxtapose the Offer of the College with the American dream. He pointed out that the American dream is rooted in violence against people of color and is something “that has been a dream too often and not an offer” for oppressed groups of people in this country.
The bulk of McKesson’s talk focused on five concepts and how they relate to his work in St. Louis: proximity, storytelling, redefining the win, pressure and allyship.
McKesson shared many of his tweets and videos from his time in St. Louis. He spoke about how when he started out in St. Louis he used Twitter as a way to work through his own feelings about the protests. Twitter evolved into a means for him to bring the story of the protests to a wider audience.
“Some of what I do is tell the story. Some of what I do is amplify the story,” said McKesson.He also emphasized the importance of showing tender, positive moments on Twitter. For example, he loves seeing couples in protest spaces.
“The stories we tell matter and if anything the protests have made me see that in a deeper way,” McKesson went on.
His talk was filled with personal anecdotes and remarks about how he used social media to tell stories that traditional news outlets were not reporting.
“Twitter allowed us to tell the story [of Ferguson] in real-time,” said McKesson.“It allowed us to take back the narrative and when CNN wasn’t saying anything and when MSNBC wasn’t talking about it we actually got to push the narrative anyway,” he continued.
He said that when he first arrived in St. Louis he was part of a group of protesters that was tear gassed by the police and that this experience helped to redefine his outlook on the protests early on.
“There was this thing about being tear gassed in America that was so foreign to me,” said McKesson. “It was this notion that this is actually not the America that I know. This is not the America that I love. This is not the America that I think is fair to people, and that was what made me make a different choice about being in the work.”
McKesson stressed the importance of authentic commitment to protesting, saying that many people like to say that they are committed to social justice, but in actuality are not willing to really engage with the issues.
He related this commitment to the concept of proximity.
“When we talk about the protest spaces, we are saying that we stand with these families that have lost people; we stand with marginalized people and for us it was like putting our bodies on the line and saying here we are,” said McKesson.
He went on to explain how Twitter has enabled this sort of commitment from many different types of people.
“What I am so proud about in the protest space is that Twitter specifically has allowed us to have a vertical community where socioeconomic status is actually not that important anymore in terms of how people have come together,” said McKesson.
McKesson emphasized the difference between what he calls “the good and the necessary” and actual justice.
“Justice is either never experiencing the trauma at all or [justice] is accountability for people who perpetuate or initiate the trauma,” he said.
He cited the six resignations of various officials in Ferguson as “good and necessary,” but not as true justice for the people of Ferguson.
To conclude his talk, McKesson got to the heart of his protest ethos.
“We protest not to confirm the worth of our lives. We know that our lives are worthy. We protest to expose the depth of the evil that we face,” said McKesson to a chorus of snaps from the audience.
His talk ended with a lengthy question and answer session, during which students asked questions ranging from how to reach out to groups of people on campus who have not yet decided to engage with issues of race to how he manages to stay positive when faced with intense resistance to his message.
Abby Roy ’16 asked him about how he views race education existing in the classroom today. McKesson responded that the classroom is incredibly important to effective education about race.
“Twitter and the classroom are the last two radical spaces in America,” he said.
Sixty eight percent of respondents to a recent survey conducted by a class taught by Associate Professor of Government Michael Franz indicated that they believe that political correctness is a ‘problem at Bowdoin currently.’
The respondents represented an even distribution of class years and genders, and were numerous enough to represent the broader Bowdoin community.
Students’ individual definitions of political correctness vary, but the survey indicates that students are unhappy about the level of political correctness on campus. Some students the Orient spoke with argued for political correctness, while others said that it has become difficult to voice a minority opinion on campus.
“It seems to me that people have this idea that there is this pervasive force among Bowdoin students that is the language police,” said James Jelin ’16, who writes a column for the Orient. “And if you say anything that doesn’t gel with the currents of appropriateness that you’re suddenly going to be exiled from the Bowdoin community.”
The survey also asked about Cracksgiving and the Inappropriate Party, two recent events that have sparked discussion about the necessity of political correctness. Twenty seven percent of respondents approved of the way the College handled Cracksgiving, 47 percent did not approve, and 25 percent felt they did not have enough information to say. Thirty eight percent of respondents indicated that “students in Ladd House unfortunately caved to pressure from Res Life,” 17 percent believe the Ladd house residents “made the right call,” 37 percent said that they “see the merits of both sides” and eight percent said that they did not have enough information to decide.
Director of the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity Kate Stern feels that the limited discussion surrounding these events is the bigger issue.
“I think people use the term political correctness like a stop sign and then we don’t go past that,” Stern said. “We don’t talk about what the impact was of Cracksgiving on our Native American students. We just talk about the administration being politically correct. But we’re not getting to that next step.”
Yet many students, divided on whether political correctness is a necessary roadblock, find it difficult to get to this next step. Since Cracksgiving and the cancellation of the Inappropriate Party, students have debated whether political correctness protects people or stifles them, or whether it does both.
“[I think it’s] everyone’s responsibility to engage in conversation and to promote a space where political correctness doesn’t inhibit, but also protects those it is meant to protect,” Michelle Kruk ’16 said. “I don’t think that being politically correct necessarily means censorship.”
Debate about Yik Yak mirrors the debate about political correctness, particularly in regards to censorship. Some believe that Yik Yak provides a platform for students to speak their minds freely and voice potentially unpopular opinions.
“People feel more inclined to speak their minds when you don’t have to sign your name after it. If you feel comfortable speaking up for yourself there, then I would say go for it,” said Ned Wang ’18.
Stern agreed that the lower stakes of anonymous forums can make them attractive to students.
“I think part of the PC backlash—which I agree with—is that if we just don’t say it because we’re not allowed to say it, it doesn’t change how we’re thinking,” Stern said. “That feeling of I can’t say it, but I’m still thinking it, drives the conversation to Yik Yak.”
Some people however, believe that Yik Yak too easily allows for hurtful comments to be made. In a recent column in the Orient, Vee Fyer-Morrel ’15 warned that Yik Yak has led to particularly harmful comments with regard to body image, allowing people to “lash out from behind the anonymous comfort of a screen.”
The anonymity of Yik Yak is lost in the classroom, and some believe that political correctness is a problem there. Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies Tess Chakkalakal encourages “lively debate” in her classes, yet often finds political correctness hindering discussion.
“I think that disagreement, debate, argument, is an important part not only of an academic institution like Bowdoin College but also of a democracy,” Chakkalakal said. “I encourage disagreement and I worry that political correctness forces us to all agree, which I believe, and according to that survey, we do not. We have differences of opinion that I believe should be voiced respectfully—but voiced and not stifled.”
Between Bowdoin Climate Action’s (BCA) sit-ins and the Ferguson die-ins, activists on campus have been busy, and their visibility has perhaps increased attention on issues of open discussion. Some students attributed the problem of political correctness to campus activists.
“I think a lot of the activists on campus are the biggest offenders,” Nick Mansfield ’17 said. “The people who think they are the most liberal, free-thinking people are the most intolerant ones. Most of the ones I’ve encountered have no desire to negotiate or understand the opposing viewpoint at all.”
Mansfield cited hostility toward people who take a pro-life stance as an example of liberal students taking an intolerant position.
“If you’re pro-life at Bowdoin you would get shot down in a hailstorm of bullets,” he said. “No one would really respect that viewpoint even though you’re perfectly entitled to it and you might have your reasons for it.”
Hayley Nicholas ’17 said she believes such a sentiment is a result of a lack of communication on campus.
“I don’t think it’s the activism itself [perpetuating this divide]. It’s the lack of communication,” she said.
Nicholas referred to BCA as an example of a group failing to communicate.
“The only problem that I have with BCA is that they realize that there’s a huge disconnect on campus between students who want to divest and students who don’t, and I feel like they haven’t been trying to bridge that gap,” she said.
Yet Nicholas was careful not to attribute political correctness to activism.
“I think people confuse the terms activism and political correctness,” she said. “They think they’re one and the same.”
Jelin said he thinks the lack of communication can be characterized differently. He believes that campus discussion has become too one sided and that opposing voices are plentiful but simply hesitant to engage.
“I think that all of the people who disagree with this primary dialogue, they’re just not talking about it. Nobody else is writing letters to the editor in the Orient, nobody else is holding rallies,” Jelin said. “I think that there’s this fallacy that everyone at Bowdoin believes these things when really it’s just a small but vocal minority.”
The survey’s results seem to support Jelin’s theory, since the majority of students declared themselves unsatisfied with the current state of discussion. Chakkalakal said that the discourse should be elevated, but not by the administration.
“I don’t think it’s the administration’s responsibility,” Chakkalakal said. “I think it’s the students’. I put it on you.”
Editor's note: The story originally stated that 69 percent of students think that political correctness is a problem at Bowdoin. That number was in fact 68 percent.
Last Thursday, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Constitutional and International Law and Government Richard Ernest Morgan ’59 died of metastatic lung cancer at the age of 77. A distinguished professor who taught at his alma mater for 45 years, Morgan was buried yesterday in Pine Grove Cemetery—where many former faculty members, including Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and several College presidents, are also buried.
According to fellow Bowdoin faculty members, constitutional scholars from around the country and four decades worth of students, Morgan was a caring and dedicated scholar with a range of passions outside the classroom that added to his impressive life.
A Teacher at HeartMany liberal arts colleges do not have a permanent constitutional scholar on campus, and the most famous professors in the field are almost all faculty at prominent law schools—not undergraduate institutions.
“He was primarily interested in teaching to undergraduates,” said Michael Ulhmann, a constitutional law professor at the Claremont Graduate School who knew Morgan for over two decades. “That’s a rare thing in someone who’s marvelously competent at Con Law. I’m sure he was tempted by large schools…but he deliberately decided to return to his own school because he liked the idea of a liberal education in the old sense.”
Morgan was well published, writing numerous scholarly texts and hundreds of essays and articles about constitutional law for various journals and think tanks throughout his career. For professors like Uhlmann, Morgan was a trendsetter in the study of the Supreme Court, despite the relative anonymity that came with working at a small college in Maine.
“[Morgan] made me rethink a lot of things dealing with the First Amendment and the role of courts,” Uhlmann said. “[He] was, you might say, an originalist before that term became popular. That’s a pertinent and interesting point of view that really deserves to be heard and [Morgan] was among the very first in his own quiet way to do that. And his First Amendment views have really become the new orthodoxy, if I can put it that way, among a lot of very smart Con Law scholars. He had a very useful impact on people who follow these things closely, but not in a world of larger fame.”
Professor James Stoner, a constitutional law professor at Louisiana State University who Morgan befriended in the mid 1990s, echoed Uhlmann’s sentiments about Morgan’s role in their field.
“He could see a major case coming well before it was ever picked up in the press,” Stoner said. “He knew constitutional law so well that he had a whole feel for what the Court was doing and, mind you, that’s not because he thought the Court was doing the right things, but he still had a real sense of what direction they were heading in.”
Morgan was as appreciated by his students as he was by his colleagues. Many of his students, like Mitch Zulkie ’91, who studied law after Bowdoin and now works for the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, alluded to Morgan’s unique ability to question their assumptions in a scholarly and thought-provoking manner.
“He’s not the type of guy who gives you clear answers,” Zuklie said. “He forces you to think through probing questions. He trains people to ask those kinds of probing questions. When you ask, ‘Should I do X or Y?’ he never really says X or Y. He leads you to your own conclusion. But undoubtedly you were much the wiser for the questions he asked.”
Another of Morgan's former students, Ed Lee ’74, went on to become the Mayor of San Francisco, Calif. in 2011.
“We mourn the passing of Professor Dick Morgan, whose legacy lives on through the generations of students he had taught at Bowdoin, inspiring many—including myself—in a career of law and government," the mayor said in a statement to the Orient. “As Bowdoin's only constitutional law professor, Professor Morgan taught his students to think critically, thoughtfully and passionately about the law and the pursuit of justice for all. I am proud to have called him a teacher, a mentor and a friend.”
Students also greatly valued his narrative approach to constitutional law—a subject that has the reputation of being dense, repetitive and dry.
“He had this way of taking case law and bringing it to life,” said Steve Robinson ’11. “Every class was like an episode of ‘Law and Order.’ It didn’t matter if this was a murder that happened in 1886—he had a way of narrating it and bringing it to life with his Sean Connery voice. The entire class would be in a trance and wanted to know what happened next.”
Morgan’s reputation as an outstanding constitutional law professor earned him deep respect and admiration from his colleagues.
“I can remember when I visited campus interviewing, I went out to dinner with him and [Gary M. Pendy Professor of Social Sciences Jean] Yarbrough and enjoyed that conversation greatly—it was one of the highlights of my job interview here,” said Associate Professor of Government Michael Franz, current chair of the department. “To teach his courses the way he did and have students to the very end who admired his approach to teaching—I would love to have anything close to that kind of experience.”
Morgan was also well known at Bowdoin for being one of the few conservatives on a predominantly liberal-minded campus—something he was always aware of in class and in the community.
One of his long-time colleagues in the government department, Professor of Government Paul Franco, remarked that one of the qualities he admired most in Morgan was his ability to balance his own political leanings with a scholarly approach to his studies.
“Shortly after the election of George Bush in 2000—the famous Bush v. Gore contest—he and I and Jean [Yarbrough] were invited to a dinner with students, and...one of them addressed Morgan and said. ‘Professor, what do you think of the Bush v. Gore case?’ And he said, ‘Well, as a Republican, I couldn’t have been more delighted by the decision in Bush v. Gore. But as a constitutional scholar, I say I found the decision highly questionable.’”
An Old-School GentlemanMany of the people who knew Morgan best stressed his unique position on campus, both literally and figuratively. Roosting in his office atop Hubbard Hall, he dressed like the picture of an esteemed college professor, had a well-known love for fine scotch whiskey and exercised a dry wit that so many around him treasured.
“I remember the first time I ever met him,” said Jordan Goldberg ’14, one of many students who grew close to Morgan during his time at the College. “I was waiting outside the honors talks freshman year…and [Morgan] came out first and I had never met him before, and he put his hand on my shoulder and he looked at the offerings of desserts and coffee and said, ‘Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.’”
“I remember the first time that I walked into his ‘man cave’ out in Harpswell,” said Robinson, who occasionally helped Morgan and Yarbrough with tasks at their home. “I was helping him to carry his canoes or something…and after I got done taking care of the canoes, he handed me a $20 bill, and I said, ‘Oh no, I can’t take that,’ and he said, ‘No, you have to do it, otherwise the College will think this is slavery.’”
Morgan also led an active life in the Maine woods. An avid hunter, canoer, fly fisherman and bird watcher, he was never stopped from pursuing his love for the great outdoors.
“His outdoorsmanship is as deep a part of his scholarship in a way,” said Uhlmann. “I don’t know that he was any prouder of what he did intellectually than his work as an outdoorsman and as a Maine Guide.”
Morgan was also known for steering clear of technology like email. Lynne Atkinson ’81, government department coordinator, had the unofficial position of Morgan’s online voice—helping students get in touch with him and pointing them up the spiral staircase to his office.
“When I went to meetings with other coordinators, where we were having training sessions on how to do this or there was some newfangled thing we were going to learn, I was always the one that had to raise my hand and say, ‘But what if you have a faculty member who doesn’t use a computer?’” Atkinson said. “I never really heard anyone else ask that.”
Many described Morgan’s deep love for the College, which he carried with him for all 49 years he spent on this campus. He had been declining in health for the past few years and had begun preparing two final courses to teach before his retirement at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year. After being diagnosed with cancer, Morgan visited one of his former students, President Barry Mills ’72, to discuss his future plans.
“[Morgan] was doing what he liked to do until he wasn’t able to do it anymore,” said Mills. “And when he sat [in my office] five weeks ago, he really thought he could finish the semester and really wanted to plow through the semester with his students despite the fact that he knew he had some therapy to do.”
Morgan brought his constitutional law textbooks to his consultations in Boston, Mass., preparing his lectures as if nothing was wrong. And in his last days, which he spent in a hospital bed, his love for Bowdoin still shone bright.
“I visited [Morgan] at the hospital… within a couple of days of him actually passing away,” said Franco. “He was in his hospital room, and not in great shape... He found it difficult to actually speak very much. I was making conversation, describing how I was very impressed by working on this presidential search committee with the love of Bowdoin that the Bowdoin Trustees have. And I turned to [Morgan] and said, ‘Dick, I think of you as one of these super Polar Bears.’ He was kind of staring and then suddenly, he made a huge growling noise to acknowledge his Polar Bear-ness.”
—Sam Miller and Kate Witteman contributed to this report.
Editor's Note: The article was updated to include a statement from the Mayor of San Francisco, Ed Lee '74.
Citing the 1,200 signatures it has collected for a petition that was created in the fall of 2012, Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) says that it has a mandate from the student body to pressure the College to divest from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. The Orient took a closer look at the petition and concluded that BCA has overstated student support for this cause.
Last week, the Orient obtained the physical copies of petitions that BCA presented to President Barry Mills on April 18. BCA declined to share its current petition, which it claims has 1,200 signatories. Instead, BCA offered the Orient a list of the signatories who had also pledged to volunteer for BCA’s divestment campaign.
“Normally, petition signatures are meant for the target, which was the College, the president, and the Board of Trustees,” said Matthew Goodrich ’15, a leader of BCA. “We had concerns about privacy.”
When BCA presented the petition to Mills, it claimed that 1,000 students had indicated their support for divestment. After examining the individual petitions, the Orient determined that 923 total signatures were given to Mills. Among these signatures, there were 60 duplicates, four triplicates, 14 crossed-out names, and 16 illegible names, bringing the total number of valid petition signatories to 825.
In addition to numerical discrepancy between BCA’s claims and the actual number of valid signatures given to Mills, the petition—which BCA publicly presented as one divestment petition—was in fact comprised of two differently-phrased petitions.
The petition used during the beginning of the divestment campaign begins with the bolded declaration, “I Believe Carbon Neutral Means Carbon Free,” and uses the word “divest” only once, at the end of the petition. This petition was signed by 469 out of the 923 signatures.The remaining 454 signatures were attached to a statement which referred exclusively to divestment. It states in bold font: “I believe Bowdoin should divest its endowment from fossil fuels in recognition that climate change is a moral issue.”
Goodrich explained that in the fall of 2012, BCA had discussed the feasibility of the College discontinuing its use of natural gas with Mills and after he made it clear that doing so was not feasible, the language of the petition was altered to focus exclusively on climate change.
The Orient conducted two separate unscientific surveys between October 27-29, sending one to signatories of the “Carbon Free” petition and one to signatories of the “Divest” petition. The same question—“Do you currently support the movement for Bowdoin College to divest from fossil fuels?”—was presented to each of the survey groups.
Out of 160 respondents who signed the “Divest” petition, 42 percent responded “Yes,” 26 percent responded “No,” 29 percent responded “I don’t feel informed enough to make a decision,” and three percent responded “No opinion.”
Out of 72 respondents who signed the “Carbon Free” petition, 36 percent responded “Yes,” 41 percent responded “No,” 22 percent responded “I don’t feel informed enough to make a decision” and one percent responded “No opinion.”
In all, 40 percent of signatories stated that they still supported divestment.
Goodrich said that the messages of the petitions are not contradictory despite their different wording.
“I think that people who signed [the “Carbon Free” petition] are calling for a greater mandate—a greater re-evaluation for Bowdoin’s sustainability,” said Goodrich. “I think that those are both divestment signatures. The wording is different but the actual message of divestment is on both.”
After learning about the the survey data, Goodrich attributed the difference in support between the petitions and the survey to the College’s announcement in April 2013 that divestment could cost the College $100 million over the next 10 years.
Since April, BCA claims to have added an additional 200 signatories to its petition, with most of them coming from first-year students, according to Goodrich. The petition now includes signatures from seven class years—2012 to 2018—although only “a handful” are members of the Class of 2012, according to Allyson Gross ’16, a member of BCA.
“Last year, as well as this year, we’ve had 1,000 students who signed our petition,” said Goodrich last week. “The campus community has spoken. We built that support for divestment.”
Goodrich stood behind the petition this week.
“We’re not speaking for anyone. The people who put their names down have, on their own free will, said they support this…this is what they have said. We’re sort of the mediators because we’re the ones who are most passionate about divestment—we’re the ones who presented to the Trustees.”
BCA member Bridget McCoy ’15 said in an interview last week that while BCA speaks for the majority of students, those most involved with the campaign are likely more informed than the rest of the student body.
“Signing onto divestment means you support it, but I’m sure there’s a variety of what people think, said McCoy. “We really want to promote discourse and discussion—we don’t want to trick people or anything like that.”
BCA, which stated in its slideshow presentation to the Trustees that it has a mandate from Bowdoin students to persuade the College to divest from fossil fuel companies, has repeatedly noted the force its petition carries. Last week, Gross referred to the meeting between the Trustees and members of BCA as a meeting 1,200 students had asked for.
“I think the 1,200 number must have had an influence on [Mills’] view on whether or not we had to meet with the group,” said Chair of the Board of Trustees Deborah Jensen Barker.A meeting between BCA and the Board’s Student Affairs Committee—organized by Mills—took place on October 17.
Though BCA has said that the petition is representative of student support, the Orient found numerous cases of signatories that were not even students, including two visiting teaching assistants from the Department of Romance Languages, several college employees, and a local business owner who sells hand-crafted jewelry in front of the Polar Express in Smith Union.
“I’d like to highlight the passion that the students have brought to this issue—particularly members of BCA—in addition to the folks that came out to gave the petition to President Mills and the folks that came out to show support with the trustees,” said Goodrich in this week’s interview.
Although the counts of the physical signatures and the survey of the signatories raises questions about the number of students who fully support divestment, there is no doubt that a sizeable portion of the Bowdoin faculty think the College should divest from fossil fuels. In the October 17 issue of the Orient, 70 faculty members published a letter urging the Board of Trustees to divest.
“The faculty letter with 70 names—I think that shows how much this issue has grown,” said Goodrich. “We really wanted the faculty to engage with us; we asked and they did. It shows that this is something that doesn’t just concern the students but also involves faculty members...It’s good to know they have our back.”
The letter was shaped out of two separate draft letters, one primarily authored by Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Natural Sciences Nat Wheelwright, Senior Lecturer in Romance Languages Genie Wheelwright, and Associate Professor of Biology and Neuroscience Hadley Horch with assistance from Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies John Lichter. The other draft was primarily written by English Professor David Collings.
“I think it would’ve been a shame to have 1,000 Bowdoin students calling for divestment and then have the faculty sit on the sidelines, despite the fact that we teach it in our classroom—the importance of climate change—and not to take any action,” said Wheelwright, who did not know about the Orient’s examination of the petitions given to Mills.
Originally, Collings opposed divestment because he thought that the movement asked for a largely symbolic commitment without inducing a direct economic or environmental effect. He said that his opinion changed once the faculty letter added language calling for action beyond divestment, including carbon taxes, the end of federal oil subsidies, and a call to lobby the federal government.
“That’s a statement of principle—a statement of value,” said Collings regarding divestment. “We’re aligning [the College’s] financial investments with its values. As an ethical and moral statement, it’s completely coherent. I buy it.”
Lichter agreed, citing two people who influenced his decision: professor of economics emeritus David Vail and environmentalist author Wendell Berry.
“David Vail basically said symbolism is important,” said Lichter. “He argued that that’s important—to get public sentiment moving in the right direction.”
Lichter, who published an op-ed in April that called for alternatives to divestment, noted that while he now supports divestment on ethical and moral grounds, students and community members still need to focus on more influential targets.
“They could basically get an appointment with Angus King or Susan Collins when they’re here—they could do it,” said Lichter. “I think there’s good reasons why good people don’t want to do this.”
Associate Professor of Economics Guillermo Herrera, who did not sign the faculty letter, noted that while he is respectful of how the movement has galvanized student activism, he remains skeptical of the notion that divestment could alter corporate or consumer behavior.
“The problem is that carbon emission and fossil fuel use is underpriced by the market,” said Herrera. “I feel like the right action is one that attempts to make the price correct—to align the price with what it should be socially.”
Herrera suggested an alternative solution in which the College imposes a carbon tax on itself in order to reflect the true social costs of carbon emissions. Holding itself to this tax level—determined by a consensus of economists—could affect both the College’s energy and investment decisions as well as corporate and consumer behavior.
“I feel like the divestment path is maybe a second best path,” said Herrera. “There may be better ways to do it. Those deserve some serious consideration.”
Assistant Professor of Economics Stephen Meardon—who did not sign the faculty letter—said that it was inappropriate for professors to advocate contested political and moral positions as representatives of the College.
“What are the appropriate policies, in light of their distributive consequences, is not a scientific question,” said Meardon. “It’s a political and moral question, and it’s contested, and the College should not be weighing in on that.”
Meardon called into question some of the tenets of the faculty letter, specifically citing the letter’s call for divestment as an “important educational gesture.”
“The college should definitely try to help students acquire knowledge and analytical skills that are relevant to understanding the consequences of fossil fuel consumption on climate,” said Meardon. “‘Educational gesture’ is exactly that kind of conflation of scientific with moral; of an academic purpose with an advocacy purpose. I think that those purposes should be kept separate.”
Meardon asserted that not only would divestment from fossil fuels undermine the College’s purposes as an academic institution, it runs the risk of attracting students and faculty only of “like minds” and deterring those who may have differing opinions.
“The faculty should never stand behind students in their political engagement—not on any political action that is contested,” said Meardon.
Wheelwright said that while more forceful action is needed in order to mitigate the effects of climate change, he heard few credible arguments against divestment when meeting with about 20 faculty members to discuss the proposed letter.
“We saw this as joining a broad, energetic social movement that we haven’t seen practically since the Vietnam War, that has some legs and the potential to change the national conversation,” said Wheelwright. “If educational institutions don’t get out in front of this issue, 40 years from now, populations will be half as big as they are today.”
—Ron Cervantes, Natalie Kass-Kaufman and Kate Witteman contributed to this report.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article miscontrued a statement made by Associate Professor of Economics Stephen Meardon. The article said that he found it inappropriate for faculty members to engage in political and moral questions, when he meant that it was inappropriate for faculty members to advocate contested poltical and moral positions as representatives of the College. The article has been updated to correct this error.
The Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin—formerly called the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF), which is no longer officially recognized by the College—recently celebrated the opening of the Joseph and Alice McKeen Christian Study Center at 65 Harpswell Road. The center is off campus but located near Farley Field House, and will serve as the venue for the fellowship to conduct bible studies, engage in weekly group discussions, and host guest speakers.
The space is named after Joseph and Alice McKeen—Bowdoin’s first president and his wife. According to Rob Gregory, one of the volunteer leaders of the group, McKeen worked to spread the gospel to Bowdoin students, and the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin aims to follow in his footsteps.
An open house was held at the center on September 27 and featured Owen Strachan ’03 as a keynote speaker. Other alumni of the fellowship travelled to Brunswick to attend the event.
The Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin acquired the oﬀ-campus property because it is no longer an oﬃcially recognized group at the College and therefore does not have the ability to book regular meetings in on-campus spaces. The fellowship had previously used the Chapel, Daggett Lounge, and 30 College Street for bible studies and other gatherings.
Bob Ives, director of religious and spiritual life, said that even though the fellowship is not an organized religious group at Bowdoin, it can still meet on campus—the spaces are just more diﬃcult to reserve because College-aﬃliated groups receive preference. Ives said that he has oﬀered 30 College Street for the group’s use and would like the fellowship to continue to contribute to spiritual life at the College.
At the end of last year, the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin chose not to recharter with Bowdoin Student Government (BSG), following a series of events that began in the spring. In February, the fellowship’s advisors—Rob and Sim Gregory—refused to sign the College’s Volunteer Agreement. The agreement contained a non-discrimination policy that they felt they could not sign due to religious convictions, specifically the Christian gospel’s interpretation of homosexuality.
After the Gregorys, who had been heavily involved with BCF for almost a decade, declined to sign the agreement, the fellowship was given two options—it could either recharter as a College-recognized organization and select new advisors who complied with the Volunteer Agreement or choose not to recharter and keep the Gregorys as advisors. Last year’s BSG Student Organization Oversight Committee (SOOC) chair Danny Mejia-Cruz ’16 and the Oﬃce of Student Activities worked with students in the fellowship to find a new advisor if they were interested in re-chartering, but the group decided it would rather keep the Gregorys as advisors. Harriet Fisher ’17, this year’s SOOC chair, said she has not received any interest from the fellowship in rechartering the group this year.
The new house
The house on Harpswell Road was purchased on April 14, 2014 for $250,000. Gregory declined to comment on where the finances to purchase the property came from, but it is listed along with the name Kirk DiVietro in Brunswick Real Estate tax documents. It is unclear whether DiVietro has a connection to the Gregorys or to the College. When the Gregorys acquired the building—a colonial-style house built in 1900—it needed “considerable repairs,” said Gregory. Ryan Ward ’17, one of the leaders of the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin, said that he believed at one point the building had been condemned.
With the help of other volunteers, the Gregorys worked many hours over the summer to restore the building so that it could be used by the fellowship at the beginning of the academic year. They also hired contractors to do some more extensive repairs.
“We put the time and effort and resources into making sure that it was fit for the purpose for which it had been set apart,” said Gregory. “And that was to do this kind of work for students who want to learn about the scriptures and study the scriptures on a location near the Bowdoin campus.”
The Christian Study Center consists of two units—the main house in the front and an apartment unit in the back. Altogether the center has five rooms, with an estimated housing capacity of five people. Ward said that although the fellowship is just using the space for bible studies, discussion groups, and speaker events right now, he eventually hopes residents will live in the house.
“Whether it’s a young couple who’s staying there to kind of see if things are working for students, or [students themselves], that’s the plan for the future,” said Ward.
Club chartering at Bowdoin
Although the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin is no longer oﬃcially recognized by the College, its role in the Bowdoin community has remained fairly consistent with previous years.
“We still meet for bible studies; we still have other gatherings on Thursday nights,” said Ward. “We pretty much have done what we’ve always been doing, we’ve just shifed it over to this new space.”
“I don’t want to make it look like we’re separating ourselves from the campus because we’re definitely not,” he added. “But we also don’t want to entangle ourselves too much in the operation of the College.”
Some of the group’s responsibilities have changed, though. In the past, BCF selected speakers and organized programs in the College’s chapel, according to Ward. Now, Ives and the Oﬃce of Religious and Spiritual Life is responsible for running the chapel.
Ives hopes to keep the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin active in campus religious life.
“Even though they’re not a formal, organized group through BSG, they are a religious group so I invite them to the [Bowdoin] Interfaith Council,” said Ives. “I certainly want to make sure that they are acknowledged.”
The Interfaith Council is made up of the eight religious groups on Bowdoin’s campus. Its first meeting of the year will take place on October 22. Ives has not received a response from the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin about whether they will participate this year and Ward and Gregory both declined to comment on the group’s plans.
“It’s still in discussion,” said Ward.
New group part of a consortium The Joseph and Alice McKeen Christian Study Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit that operates on grants, membership fees and donations, according to its website.
The fellowship is still connected to the national InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group, but with the acquisition of the physical Christian Study Center, it has also become a member of the Consortium of Christian Studies Centers. This consortium is independent from Inter-Varsity. Altogether, the consortium consists of over 15 established study centers throughout the country.
Many of the centers in the consortium are located in college towns and serve the students of the nearby colleges and universities in an unoﬃcial way.
For instance, the Erasmus Institute at the Five Colleges in Amherst, Mass. is an established center in the Consortium of Christian Studies Centers that is unoﬃcially tied to Amherst. Other established centers in the consortium include the Chesterton House, a Christian studies center at Cornell, and the Rivendell Institute at Yale.
Ives noted that Christian study centers are becoming increasingly popular around colleges and universities across the nation.
“Some of the leaders of InterVarsity have shared that they really don’t like to do this because they want to be on the college campuses—that’s their tradition,” he said.“But this is with a lot of changing mores and morality of different college campuses and their very vigorous feeling of faith about preserving the nature of marriage from their particular perspective.”
Despite the changes the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin has undergone in the past nine months, the group seems to be happy with how things are going now.
“The changed venue really isn’t an issue for gospel work—it never has been,” said Gregory. “The work of Christian ministry isn’t dependent on one place, and while we enjoyed the seven or eight years we had to preach the gospel in the chapel on Bowdoin's campus, we’ll preach the same message wherever we have an opportunity to do it.”
“We’re really grateful that we’re able to continue to do the InterVarsity work in a place that’s convenient to the students,” he added. “That was important to them and it’s important to us.”
Ward expressed similar feelings of gratitude and a certainty that relations with the College will be nothing but cordial in the future.
“So far I’m very pleased with how things have gone,” he said. “We don’t feel as though we’ve been pushed against our will to do this. This has been something that we think, from our perspective, is God’s will, and for the better in bringing the gospel which is essentially what our mission is and what we hope to do more of as we figure out how we’re going to use this space.”