After a lively trustee meeting, recommendations by an advisory committee, and four months of deliberation, President Barry Mills made public on Wednesday his recommendations for Bowdoin's investment policy on the humanitarian situation in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Among these recommendations is a provision for the College to set aside for humanitarian efforts any profits garnered from indirect investments in companies that support the genocide and the Sudanese government.
In a public statement [full text], Mills said that Bowdoin should make no direct investments in the region. Bowdoin currently has no investments, direct or indirect, in Darfur from which to divest.
Mills adhered to the majority of the recommendations by the advisory committee on Darfur (ACOD), but broke with the ACOD on whether to terminate fund managers who would not liquidate holdings in Darfur-related companies.
Since Bowdoin invests the bulk of its endowment indirectly through various funds and pools controlled by professional managers, the College does not have complete control over the allocation of all of its investments. The ACOD had recommended the termination of any managers who ignored Bowdoin's potential position on Darfur and invested in companies that financially supported the Sudanese government.
Though Mills did not agree with the committee on this specific issue, he did recommend that any profits from indirectly held investments be set aside and donated to humanitarian efforts in the region, adding that no other college or university has taken this step.
"I think you can say that it is certainly as activist as any college that we've seen," Mills said in an interview. "No other place is saying that if they make any profits from [indirect investments] that they're not going to keep the money."
Mills also differed from the committee by saying that there is no need to create a standing committee to recommend college responses to global issues, though he said he would create a committee to assist him in determining companies' complicity with the genocide and the Sudanese government. Additionally, Mills said that Bowdoin should inform the managers of its indirectly invested funds of the College's position on Darfur.
"The College should encourage individual activism on these important issues centered on the common good," he wrote. "However, activism is not created or mandated—it is not the stuff of committees. It is generated out of education, awareness, and should be nurtured and supported by the College. Our efforts in community service are designed to 'bubble up' from our students, faculty and staff—rather than being imposed by the College—and to demonstrate the effectiveness of activism where the interest is self-motivated."
In the interview, Mills expressed his uncertainty that a non-investment policy would have a positive impact on the situation, but acknowledged the symbolic value of the gesture.
"I'm personally quite skeptical that the collective activity of divestment will have an impact on the situation in Darfur," he said. "Nonetheless, I think it's the right thing to do...We've in a thoughtful way tried to balance the various interests that we're dealing with here."
Mills also called upon Bowdoin's student body to reaffirm its commitment to activism, a commitment that he said had dwindled following the intense discussion this last spring.
"I don't think it's the role of the College to tell people what to do in terms of activism."
"The real measure of Bowdoin's excellence is that it comes from people's hearts...This is a horrible situation and there ought to be outrage. Where is that outrage?" he said in the interview.
James MacAllen '66, one of the two trustees on the ACOD, said that he was happy with Mills's recommendations.
"I think it's a tremendous synthesis of all the perspectives and opinions," he said. "The opinions were widely varying, but Barry pulled it all together and I think he has come up with a wonderful statement, specifically on this particular issue, but also by setting out principles we can look to when and if other situations like this arise in the future."
James Ward, a professor of mathematics and the faculty representative to the trustees' investment committee, said that he also felt Mills had balanced competing interests.
"On the one hand there's a body of opinion that says the people that do the investing have a fiduciary responsibility to the institution and to both those who came before us and those who came after us...and that the fewer constraints you put on the process the better," he said.
"The other point of view is that there are times when the institutions' ethics ought to prevail. And I think that's where we are now," he said.
"I think we've recognized in this policy that this is a serious-enough situation that we ought to be among the institutions that are making a statement about it in a meaningful way. I think what appears in this policy is a workable plan. I'm pleased with it."
Assistant Professor of History David Gordon expressed a bit more uncertainty.
"There is a tendency to respond to African crises without being informed; I applaud the fact that there was much education and reflection about this issue before the recommendations were made," he wrote in an email. "That said, those concerned with Darfur should recognize that it is a dynamic and complex situation without a clear solution—a situation where heavy-handed doses of western goodwill will be represented and interpreted as imperial interference."
Sam Minot '08, co-president of the Bowdoin Democratic Left, said that although Mills's recommendations were good, the College could go further in terms of responsible investing.
"We can make sure that we're not putting our money in bad places, but that doesn't mean that we're putting our money in places that will help humanity," he said.
"I think we should feel a [duty] to invest the endowment in socially responsible places. Because that is the only way we can be sure the endowment is serving the common good and not just ourselves."
While many colleges have adopted investment policies specifically pertaining to Darfur, a number have also created committees to guide them in socially responsible investing, including Swarthmore, Barnard, and Hampshire. In most cases, these committees meet regularly to help advise schools' investment policies.
The trustees next meet as a whole body at the Bowdoin campaign kick-off in Boston on November 9-11.
At Bowdoin, students in the Darfur Coalition, made up of six different student groups, are again mobilizing in an attempt to raise awareness and support for Darfur.
"We just had a meeting last night...and we are planning to do a number of events this fall in a variety of areas...awareness raising, fund raising...and we're also trying to expand the group to include any students who are interested in the subject so that we can better address the situation," said Liz Leiwant '08, a member of the Darfur Coalition.
"We decided that the plan we're going to go forward with is to work with the other colleges in Maine and to have a week later this semester when we have several different events," Leiwant said, noting that the groups would probably be raising money for the Genocide Intervention Network, an NGO dedicated to helping individuals and communities to prevent and stop genocide.
But, she said, "we're still in the beginning of the planning stages."
Mills's recommendation can be accessed at http://www.bowdoin.edu/global-issues/darfur.