Upon hearing news that President Barry Mills and the officers of Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) had reached a tentative agreement regarding a proposed Community Response Committee to consider international humanitarian issues, our first reaction was one of disappointment. BSG wanted a college-level committee that would recommend institutional actions when humanitarian issues arise. Mills, on the other hand, proposed that student government create its own committee. This committee would include volunteer faculty and be given financial support. The problem with this sort of group, we thought, is that it would have no official power within the College as an institution.
However, after considering the pace of action for typical college committees, we realized that this new plan might be more effective. In November, the Board of Trustees approved the president's recommendations for an institutional response to the crisis in Darfur. The plan included the creation of a committee to identify a list of companies that do business in the region. Nearly three months later, the names of the members of that committee have not been announced. By the time the committee actually makes a recommendation (which will still need presidential approval), the symbolic effect may well be lost.
We hope that a student-led response committee will be able to move more swiftly. BSG meets weekly, allowing quick action on appointments and other administrative formalities. And because the group belongs to students, they will be determined to use it effectively. The forum will provide students and others a place to deliberate courses of action in an age when it's often difficult to know how we can affect the common good globally.
In order for the group to be successful, the College must supply it a level of access that it hasn't always been willing to offer. As evidenced by the national Darfur non-investment movement and the report issued last week by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, the issue of morally responsible investing has received increased attention lately. We expect that the proposed committee will make recommendations on endowment issues?at an institution with so much financial power, this is inevitable?but the group will primarily effect change through community education and consumer awareness. Still, the College should help the committee do its job by being more transparent than it might be to a typical BSG committee.
The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote, "If we are to survive, we must have ideas, vision, and courage. These things are rarely produced by committees. Everything that matters in our intellectual and moral life begins with an individual confronting his own mind and conscience in a room by himself." That may be true. But committees are a fact of life at a place like Bowdoin, whose future is ultimately entrusted to a committee?the Board of Trustees. The Community Response Committee will provide a place for individuals who have confronted problems of conscience to come together and find ways to respond together.
The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient's editorial board. The editorial board is comprised of Bobby Guerette, Beth Kowitt, Anna Karass, Steve Kolowich, and Anne Riley.