This week, the Orient examined a petition circulated by Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) calling on the College to divest its endowment from fossil fuels. BCA has been collecting signatures since the fall of 2012 and has reported that it now has the support of 1,200 students. The group has shown remarkable initiative and dedication to its cause and has received the attention of those on campus, the Brunswick community, and the greater Bowdoin network. Just a few weeks ago, leaders of BCA met with members of the Board of Trustees to present their case for divestment. President Barry Mills arranged this meeting under the impression that over 1,000 Bowdoin students had expressed a desire for the College to divest. However, this was not the case.

We recognize the passion with which members of BCA have promoted the group’s divestment agenda and appreciate the value that student activism provides to our community. While the editorial board of the Orient expressed its opposition to divestment in February 2013, we acknowledge that BCA has made progress in its mission and sparked significant dialogue on a campus that often lacks political engagement.

In their presentation to the Trustees, BCA leaders relied on the petition when claiming that they had a mandate from the student body. However, a survey conducted this week of students who signed BCA’s petition revealed a considerable discrepancy between the group’s self-reported support and the actual student backing for its cause. Its alleged 1,000 signatures included names from two separate petitions—one of which stressed carbon neutrality more than divestment—and a large number of signatories reported that they do not currently endorse divestment. In light of these findings, BCA should not claim to speak for the majority of students on campus nor use this claim as leverage in its discussions with the administration. 

An editorial that ran in the Orient last April argued that students should engage more meaningfully with the issues that are at stake when asked to sign petitions. Although many signed the BCA petitions without such critical consideration, we do not doubt that hundreds of signatories do make up an important voice for environmental change. The large number of students who presented the petition to Mills last April and the letter from 70 faculty members to the Board of Trustees demonstrate that a significant portion of Bowdoin community members are behind divestment. 

Despite these outspoken voices, however, there remains an equal if not greater population that doubts whether or not divestment is the best course of action that the College can take to promote environmentalism. For now, the College should not be unduly influenced by the inflated numbers of a vocal minority. 

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Garrett Casey, Ron Cervantes, Natalie Kass-Kaufman, Sam Miller, Leo Shaw and Kate Witteman.