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“All that is great about Bowdoin”

October 18, 2019

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

Yesterday, the College’s Board of Trustees commenced the first of its three meetings that will take place this year. Among the Board’s 40 members is James “Jes” Staley ’79 P ’11 whose ties to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein have landed him in the pages of newspapers nationwide.

Staley has a visible and influential position at Bowdoin. He headed the search committee in 2015 that ultimately appointed Clayton Rose to be the College’s 15th president. Staley served in the upper echelons of J.P. Morgan for over 30 years and is currently the Chief Executive of Barclays.

While at J.P. Morgan, Staley worked closely with Epstein, the Wall Street tycoon who was convicted of soliciting a minor in 2008 and charged in 2019 with sex trafficking. Though Epstein committed suicide before the case could proceed, allegations that he raped underage girls have continued to surface.

The New York Times reported that Staley visited Epstein not only during his prison sentence after the 2008 conviction but also on the private island where Epstein is believed to have committed some of the disturbing acts of which he was accused. When an internal review concluded that Epstein was a liability to J.P. Morgan, the Times report found that it was Staley’s successor, Mary Callahan Erdoes, who pushed to retain him as a client, and that executives were under the impression that she was acting in Staley’s interests. The bank dropped Epstein as a client shortly after Staley left in 2013.

In short, Staley profited off of Epstein and pushed J.P. Morgan to retain Epstein as a client so that he could continue to reap the financial benefits of their relationship.

During Staley’s visit to campus this past summer, President Rose, who worked alongside Staley at J.P. Morgan, introduced him prior to a panel titled “Banking, Business, and Brexit.”

“There are none that are better at their job and none that are better as human beings and role models than Jes is,” said Rose. “He represents all that is great about Bowdoin and the culture and the values here.”

We disagree.

We’re concerned about the character of those chosen to lead the College. When the college president cites an individual—who indisputably profited off of a sex offender—as a prime example of virtue, this community must question those who represent it and have control over its governance.

At last Monday’s faculty meeting, Rose staunchly defended the trustees, Staley included, against the editorial comments made by Visiting Assistant Professor of German Andrew Hamilton, reprimanding Hamilton for his questioning of a donor who had done so much in service of the College.

Staley’s position as a trustee is an unmistakable statement of the confidence that the College places in him—a trust that was reinforced when he was selected to head the presidential search committee.

Staley’s professional choices indicate that his personal moral compass is no longer aligned with that of the Bowdoin community. We feel that he should no longer represent the College publicly or make internal decisions in accordance with the College’s mission.

As it stands, we feel ashamed to have him on our Board.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is composed of Emily Cohen, Brianna Cunliffe, Alyce McFadden, Nina McKay, Danielle Quezada and Reuben Schafir.


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One comment:

  1. Dallas Denery/History Department says:

    An excellent editorial that raises important moral questions that the college needs to face. What do we mean when we claim that ideals of “moral leadership,” “ethical reasoning,” and “the common good” are central to our mission and identity? At the faculty meeting, President Rose attempted to dismiss Andrew Hamilton’s editorial because it contained some factual errors. This simply sidesteps the main point of Mr. Hamilton’s editorial. If we intend to market ourselves as offering a liberal arts education rooted in ethical reasoning and the Common Good, then we cannot simply ignore the question of whether Mr. Staley’s conduct conforms to the standards the College has set for itself. I have my own opinion on this question, but I also don’t claim to possess all the facts. What I do know is this: If we don’t have this conversation we risk becoming hypocrites.

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