The Bowdoin Orient

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1 days ago

Students unlikely to meet this year with Trustees on divestment

Last Friday, 100 students and community members delivered 1,000 petitions to President Mills in favor of the school divesting its endowment from fossil fuels.

Approximately 100 students and community members delivered over 1,000 signatures in support of divesting the College’s assets from fossil fuel companies to President Barry Mills in front of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library last Friday. At the gathering, Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) leader Matthew Goodrich ’15 asked Mills if and when the group can meet with the Board of Trustees. However, it is unlikely that BCA will meet with the Trustees to discuss divestment before the end of the year, according to Mills.

In an interview with the Orient, Mills said that the Trustees will likely be too busy finding his replacement this summer to consider divestment.

“They don’t have a lot of time when they come here, and this will be the first time that they will all be together since I made my announcement,” said Mills. Last week, he announced he will leave the College at the end of the next academic year. He will confirm today whether or not the students will speak with the Trustees, according to Goodrich.

Mills met with a group of pro-divestment students led by Goodrich December 2012, at which point they had 470 signatures. At that time, he announced that the College would not divest in the near future.

However, Mills returned to Bowdoin from New York on Friday specifically to receive the petition.

“I’m incredibly pleased that he flew up from New York to be here in person,” said Goodrich. “I think that shows...that he really wants to respect our activism and our efforts.” 

According to an article printed in the Orient in February 2013, 1.4 percent of Bowdoin’s endowment is invested in fossil fuels. Because the College is invested in mutual funds which do not allow investors to opt out of certain parts of their portfolio, divestment would require a turnover of 25 percent of the endowment, losing $100 million over 10 years, according to Senior Vice President for Investments Paula Volent.

However, Mills thinks financial risk is not the primary reason to abstain.He pointed out what he sees as a lack of consensus regarding climate change.

“For me to break the deal that we’ve made with people who have given money to the College for generations, there has to be uniform agreement that the cause that we’re breaking it for is not some political cause or social cause that some people believe in, but others don’t,” Mills said. 

“Though I happen to believe that climate change is a hugely important issue,” he said, “about 50 percent of America doesn’t. If we sit here at Bowdoin College, we may not respect that other position but given that that other position is out there, it is entirely inappropriate for us to say that our endowment should be the mechanism by which we choose winners and losers on political and social and moral movements.”

Friday’s gathering was the largest pro-divestment showing that the campus has seen since the movement began in fall 2012. Supporters of the petition wore orange pins and held a number of large protest signs, including  one that declared, “Bowdoin Divestment is for the Common Good.”

“I think 50 percent of the campus, especially a campus like Bowdoin, getting behind an issue like this is really a meaningful and important thing that the president and the College should address,” said Hugh Ratcliffe ’15, one of the founding members of BCA.

“Today was a showing to the administration that this is something that the students want, and this is something that the students are pushing for,” said Clara Belitz ’17. “We proved that with the petition and the turnout here.”

Mills said he thinks that not all signers of the petition understood the issue.

“I respect the views of everybody on campus,” said Mills. “There have been people who have said to me that it surprises them that a 1,000 people are supporting divestment because they talked to people and they said they don’t know anything about the issue and they never really understood it.”

Henry Daniels-Koch ’17 said that he signed the petition, but felt that he was mislead as to what he was signing. 

“After [the activists] described what divestment was, they described to me that the petition was not actually for divestment itself but for a study to be done about what the economic effects would be if they chose to divest,” he said. However, the language of the petition describes it as a movement specifically in favor of divestment. 

“I don’t support divestment yet,” Daniels-Koch said. “I could if I see the study, but I want this study to be done. I haven’t made my choice yet.” 

He also said that he took issue with the number of signatures reported, as some were collected last year from students who have since graduated. Goodrich estimated that around 600 signatures were collected last year. 

“Instead of trying to make these extreme points, the people who are for divestment at Bowdoin should really present both sides of this so we know why Barry Mills chose not to divest and why the trustees do not want to divest,” Daniels-Koch said. 

The petition claims that divestment from fossil fuels is in line with Bowdoin’s goal to serve the common good, and asks the College to divest “in recognition that climate change is a moral issue.”

“As a College that is intimately involved with the environment…that image should be continuous through the way we invest our funds and invest our endowment,” said Ben Miller ’17. “Regardless of whether or not it’s completely possible to divest entirely, it’s a nice thought.”

Faculty members were also present at the event.

“I support students taking these kinds of initiatives,” said Laura Henry, a professor in the government department. “I appreciate their efforts to cultivate a campus-wide conversation about the issue.” 

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