To the Editors,

The student request for divestment from companies profiting from fossil fuels raises important questions that I hope the College will address. It is clear that the President, the Board of Trustees, the faculty, and many students and alumni want to deal with the problems that are caused by fossil fuels. Indeed, all should be commended for the actions that have been taken to teach about the problem and conserve energy. 

However, while the students argue that it is morally inconsistent and politically useful to profit from investments in the companies harming the environment, President Mills argues that such investment is justified because maximizing the endowment’s profits yields money that is used for scholarships, courses and conservation measures. While the students question if divestment would really cost as much as feared, the administration questions if divestment would really be effective and points out that the Board of Trustees must invest the endowment as wisely as possible.

It seems to me that this last issue must be squarely addressed. What is involved in wise investment? Ought wise investing consider the common good? Certainly there are classic economic reasons why maximizing profits can contribute to the common good. However, these assume free market conditions without government intervention. When corporations can use tax payer dollars to advertise their products and when profits are used to lobby for laws that help company profits, it is clear how the common good is best served by the maximization of profit. It is not only the fossil fuel industry that is in question. Should Bowdoin be investing in the production of nuclear weapons, the manufacture of cluster bombs, or the shipping of small arms?
Of course, one may still argue, as President Mills does, that Bowdoin’s trustees should ignore how money is made (as long as this is done legally) because it can use the profits for the common good. 

However, this raises the important moral question of when ends can be used to justify means. And there are other important questions: from a market standpoint it is not obvious why socially responsible investing should reduce profits. Does it usually do so, and if so, why? Although divestment helped end apartheid in South Africa, it is not obvious when socially responsible investing can encourage companies to work for the common good. Can these conditions be carefully articulated? These moral, economic, political and psychological questions are vitally important for our country to ask and can perhaps best be addressed at a liberal arts College such as Bowdoin. 

The students requesting divestment deserve answers and have provided an educational challenge. I hope the College will meet it.

Joseph de Rivera ’53