During the 2012-2013 academic year, Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) began a campaign to encourage the administration and the Board of Trustees to move towards divesting the College’s endowment from fossil fuels. Although the administration refused to pursue meeting the students’ demands, BCA succeeded in drawing Bowdoin’s attention to what has become a national movement.  

 In recent weeks, however, the divestment movements at neighboring institutions have begun to face challenges as well. Administrations at both Vassar and Swarthmore have put the breaks on divestment talks. Middlebury, home to 350.org founder and divestment movement leader Bill McKibben, recently announced that they too would not divest from fossil fuels. The August 28 statement from Middlebury President Ronald Liebowitz came after eight months of discussion at Middlebury on the issue. 

3.6 percent of Middlebury’s endowment is invested in fossil fuels, compared to only 1.4 percent of Bowdoin’s. Bowdoin’s investment office estimated that divesting would ultimately cause the College to lose $100 million over the next ten years. 

Supporters of divestment at Bowdoin remain unconcerned by Middlebury’s decision not to divest.

“It would have been good had they divested because Bowdoin seems to be a school that would be inclined to follow their lead,” said divestment supporter Catalina Gallagher ’16.  “I don’t think it’s a nail in the coffin or anything; we can still make progress.” 

Some even viewed this development as an opportunity.

“In general Middlebury has always one-upped Bowdoin in terms of sustainability,” said Matt Goodrich ’15, who was instrumental in bringing the divestment movement to campus last year. “This gives Bowdoin the chance to reclaim ground as a leader.”

Goodrich added that there are fundamental differences between Bowdoin and Middlebury that makes this loss irrelevant for the future of divestment at Bowdoin.

“Our endowments are comparable, but our investments are quite different actually,” said Goodrich. 

Last year, according to Goodrich, the divestment campaign’s goal of meeting with the Board of Trustees was halted amidst the release of the National Association of Scholars’ “What Does Bowdoin Teach?” report. The Board’s subsequent inaccessibility inspired divestment supporters to stage a protest on the Quad to draw attention to their cause. The group lost their charter because of the illegal protest. They will continue to pursue a meeting with the Board this year.

“The decision would ultimately have to go through the Board of Trustees,” said Gallagher. “Our goal is to be able to present for them and convince them to at least establish some sort of socially responsible investment policy.”

With Goodrich abroad for the semester, Gallagher added that she would continue to keep attention on the divestment movement by speaking to first years and environmental studies classes. She also hopes to travel with other Bowdoin students to the Pittsburgh’s Power Shift Conference, a youth environmental activism convention in October.

“Just because we’ve met opposition doesn’t mean it’s time to give up,” said Goodrich. “The idea of social movement is to put the decision makers in a position where they can no longer say no.”
With recent setbacks in the divestment movement both at Bowdoin and elsewhere in the NESCAC, environmental consciousness still remains a priority for students and administrators this year. 

Over the summer, the administration funded several ecologically friendly renovations. These included the installation of low-wattage LED lights throughout the swimming pool and outside of Farley Field house and weatherizing various campus buildings. 

“It’s not just about saving kilowatt hours, but it’s about addressing the issue of climate change and how that’s part of Bowdoin’s overall mission of serving the common good,” said Coordinator for a Sustainable Bowdoin Keisha Payson.