President Clayton Rose attended a meeting of the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) on Wednesday to field questions from student activists and members of the student government. During the public comment session of the meeting, Rose responded to questions about the College’s relationship with James “Jes” Staley ’79, a member of the Board of Trustees and a known associate of the late discredited financier Jeffrey Epstein, Rose’s role as a member of the Board of Directors of Bank of America and the College’s choice of Arthur Brooks as the inaugural Joseph McKeen Fellow.
Within the first few minutes of the meeting, student representatives from the Bowdoin Labor Alliance (BLA) and Bowdoin’s chapter of the Sunrise Movement presented Rose with a letter voicing their concerns about a number of the administration’s policies and a perceived lack of transparency among senior members of the administration.
“We stand together united by a vision for our college founded on values of accountability and transparency,” read the letter. “At tonight’s BSG meeting, we hope that the Bowdoin administration will take the opportunity to engage with criticism and feedback from student leaders.”
After a brief statement from Rose about his responsibilities as president of the College and the role of the Board of Trustees, the floor was then opened to questions for Rose from members of BSG.
Members questioned Rose about Staley, a member of the Board of Trustees who had personal and professional relationships with Jeffrey Epstein. In 2018, Staley was also sanctioned by the British Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority for attempting to punish a whistleblower at Barclays, where he serves as CEO.
Rose clarified that, after conducting a formal review of Staley’s conduct, the Board determined that he had committed no actionable offenses.
“There was nothing in Jes Staley’s actions or behavior that would warrant any action on the part of the board at this time, and he remains a trustee,” Rose said of the board’s decision.
Caroline Poole ’22, a BSG representative and member of the Faculty Development Committee representative, pressed Rose on his answer, citing Rose’s statement from June of 2019 that “[Staley represents] all that is great about Bowdoin and the culture and the values here.”
Rose declined to comment on his personal opinion of Staley.
“That’s a very good question, but I’m not going to share my personal views,” said Rose.
Journey Browne ’22 questioned Rose on his position on the Board of Directors for Bank of America and the bank’s ongoing business dealings with Caliburn International, the corporation contracted by the U.S. government to build and maintain migrant detention centers on the southern border.
“You have already spoken against injustices on the southern border. Will you now put your values into action and publicly call for Bank of America to cancel this ongoing contract with Caliburn?” asked Browne.
Rose denied that his position on the Board of Directors gave him the power to call for such an action. While admitting that he does profit from Bank of America’s business dealings with Caliburn, he explained his decision to remain a member of the bank’s board.
“I’ve made a decision … that if I have an opportunity to be at the table and inside the tent, and [have] an influence and an opportunity to shape policies … I’m going to take the opportunity,” said Rose. “And that comes with constant criticism … but it gives me the opportunity to have an effect on the things that I care deeply about.”
Members of BSG also questioned Rose’s choice to appoint Arthur Brooks as the inaugural Joseph McKeen Visiting Fellow. Students have criticized Brooks’ appointment, alleging that Brooks promoted climate denial as the president of the American Enterprise Institute.
Rose first professed his own belief in the truth and gravity of the climate crisis and added his belief that Brooks also recognizes the severity of the crisis. Rose also cited Brook’s credentials as a respected conservative intellectual, noting that he could serve as a voice of ideological diversity on campus.
Rose also addressed the allegation made by Visiting Professor of German Andrew Hamilton in an op-ed published last week in the Orient that a “culture of fear” on campus stifled faculty criticism of the administration and frank discussion of its policies.
Rose challenged Hamilton’s characterization of the campus climate.
“There’s nobody on the faculty that’s got an issue with telling me what they think about anything,” said Rose. “And obviously, [Professor Hamilton] doesn’t feel particularly intimidated.”
The meeting ended abruptly as the BSG approached the end of their allotted time.
After the meeting, some students expressed frustration with Rose’s responses.
“What I heard tonight was not a sense of accountability,” said Ben Ray ’20, the co-leader of the BLA. “All I heard were explanations to get us to accept something that we have already said we don’t want.”
Diego Grossmann ’20, another co-leader of the BLA, questioned Rose’s leadership principles.
“What are the priorities for the leadership of the college?” said Grossmann after the meeting. “If it’s strictly financial, then are we willing to [turn] a blind eye to all of these moral entanglements?”
“What we heard tonight was not satisfactory, and we still welcome a written response before next week’s BSG meeting,” said Ray.
Other students were more optimistic about Rose’s engagement.
“I think it went well,” said BSG President Ural Mishra ’20. “I think there were a lot of things that a lot of students were curious or concerned about that ended up being addressed. Whether or not students feel satisfied with [Rose’s] responses is something else.”
“These are questions which raise further discussions on campus.” said Poole. “And there’s definitely more to be said, but I think that it’s important that President Rose took the time to answer these questions. It’s part of a longer process that I think is important to … the Bowdoin community.”
Editor’s Note, 1/31/20, 11:14 a.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a question to Caroline Poole ’22, it was actually Journey Browne ’22 who asked it.
Editor’s Note, 2/2/20, 10:25 a.m.: A previous version of this article stated that Rose “reiterated his support” for Staley. It has been changed to indicate that this was the board’s determination rather than his own.