Like many seniors at this time of year, I am tired. Theses are hard and waking up each morning to make it to hot breakfast in time has become a strain on my worn and weary Light Room heart. This is, however, for reasons beyond my impending graduation; for the past two years, I have led Bowdoin Climate Action’s (BCA) fossil fuel divestment campaign, and I am aggressively exhausted. Recently, two op-eds published in the Orient have critiqued the campaign for its effectiveness. While BCA is not usually in the habit of wasting highly-valued Orient word counts in direct response to these criticisms, I’d like to take a moment to address their concerns directly with some overdue real talk. Consider me the lightweight SWUG spilling secrets after only one glass of wine, except less drunk and more tired of messaging. 

Earlier this week, Chair of the Bowdoin Investment Committee Stanley Druckenmiller responded to BCA member Isabella McCann’s latest op-ed with a truly inspiring call to action for investments connoisseurs everywhere. “We go long when we think [fossil fuel stocks] are going up,” Druckenmiller noted, “and we short them when we think they are going down.” His clinical breakdown of the Investment Committee’s mission was praised by online commenters as “well-reasoned” and “levelheaded,” two qualities which I am sure our opponents would believe we are lacking in spades. We are instead, according to these critics, merely the vehicles by which “the empty rhetoric of divestment” is disseminated, all logic be damned. 

I am not disheartened by these critiques. They are nothing new, nor do I feel swayed by their content. Druckenmiller’s financial analysis is the same argument the College has been making since the fall of 2012, based in the belief that we would lose money as a result of changing managers and limiting our options. The fear-inspiring cherry on top of this argument, of course, is that financial aid would be the casualty of our moral gesture. To this, I gamely say: prove it. As a student receiving over $200,000 of aid myself, it is troubling to me that one of the world’s richest men would lord financial aid over dependent students. We have repeatedly asked that the College engage in a transparent analysis of Bowdoin’s potential path to divestment. Instead, we have been met with responses that outright ignore the actual performance and shifting of investment opportunities for fossil-free endowments. 

The November 2014 Cambridge Associates integration of a fossil free portfolio demonstrated that managers are providing opportunities for alternative investment; Yale’s CIO David Swensen—who pioneered the very model of endowment investment that Bowdoin uses—cited the unknowable financial risk of long term investing in carbon pricing as the basis for Yale’s own divestment. Managers investing in fossil fuels were “inconsistent” with Yale’s principles, Swensen noted, and were so “prodded” to move their money. The argument that Bowdoin would not be able to divest because of its managers’ inability to do so is not only apathetic but untrue. “Empty rhetoric” is not a one-sided accusation, and my degree will be unearned if I do not challenge the ungrounded analysis of those in power. 

Looking at Swensen’s recent words and the hundreds of institutions that have divested in the past five years, it’s clear that divestment would not endanger the endowment. That is, however, beside the point. The very basis of divestment is to publicly stigmatize an industry that works against our long-term interests and perpetuates systems of inequality. Yes, divestment is symbolic. No, that is not a bad thing. Divestment will not financially cripple the fossil fuel industry, but there is an inherently valuable power in standing together and collectively deciding that we will not engage in a system opposed to our principles.

Rather than be dissuaded by Druckenmiller’s criticism, I’m ashamed of what it says about the College and our community. That we should laud clinical gain and disregard the significant power of symbolism to affect broader change is unlike any lesson I’ve been taught at Bowdoin in the past four years, both inside and outside of the classroom. As a history major, I have seen symbolic gestures create whole movements of sweeping reform. In our community, I have learned to demonstrate a passion for thoughtful engagement with the Common Good and a deep empathy for those around us. In all of my time at Bowdoin, no one ever taught me to be purely rational. 

What I was taught, however, was to engage in a thoughtful and engaged critique of those in power and the world around us. I don’t doubt that Druckenmiller has contributed something meaningful to this school, but if anything, his status as a public figure should make him more available to scrutiny. Not only should he be open to critique, but as one of Bowdoin’s leaders, he has a responsibility to engage with members of our community. We thank him for taking the time to respond to these criticisms.
But, as our critics have noted, words are just words. If Mr. Druckenmiller truly wants to prove that he “shares [McCann’s] passion for this issue” and that his conflicts of interest are not holding back action, let’s set aside the Orient and talk in person. By May 5, one week before the Board meeting, we call on Stanley Druckenmiller to publicly announce his intent to sit down with representatives from BCA. In doing so, we hope that such words may turn into action. Let’s move forward together. 

Allyson Gross is a member of the Class of 2016.