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Follow your values; examine your leaders

September 18, 2020

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

Editor’s note 09/18/2020 at 2:35 p.m. EDT: A previous version of this article mistakenly reported that James Staley was served with a subpoena. The article has been updated to reflect that the subpoena was in fact issued to JPMorgan Chase & Co. 

Last year, the Orient published an editorial titled “All that is great about Bowdoin” in which we expressed our shame that James “Jes” Staley ’79 P’11, a friend and business partner of Jeffrey Epstein, remained an esteemed member of our Board of Trustees.

“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,” wrote the editorial board last year.

Since that editorial, Bowdoin has put into effect new Title IX guidelines, as directed by the U.S. Department of Education, that have severely weakened sexual violence protection at univerisites and colleges around the nation. Bowdoin, under the leadership of President Clayton Rose, has protested the weakening of student protections and promised that the College will maintain its own standards for student contact.

In an email to the College community in mid-August, President Rose sent a strong message that sexual violence would not be tolerated in the Bowdoin community. He stressed that the College’s values would not allow for any ambiguity in reporting and preventing sexual harassment and assault.

“While we will, of course, follow the law, we will always seek to do so in ways that reflect our values and that provide a process for dealing with these matters that is fair, rigorous, and transparent,” he wrote in the email.

Less than two weeks after President Rose sent that email, Bloomberg reported that a subpoena was issued to JPMorgan Chase & Co. that requires the company to hand over Staley’s communications with Epstein.

Staley’s ongoing presence on the Board of Trustees directly contradicts President Rose’s claim that, despite federal guidelines that many argue limit protections for survivors, Bowdoin values on their own pose a strong deterrent against sexual violence. Certain Bowdoin values may foster in many students a greater ability to respect other people’s boundaries, but the College is also an institution with ongoing relationships to concentrations of wealth, power and—by extension—entitlement. Bowdoin values may have served Staley well in some aspects of his life, but they did not ultimately prevent him from profiting off of his relationship with Epstein.

Staley’s case is not an isolated incident. Instead, it reflects a larger, systemic culture shift that is necessary for Bowdoin. How can we truly create a space where “sexual and gender-based misconduct, sexual and gender-based discrimination, and sexual and gender-based harassment will not be tolerated”? While we certainly do not have all of the answers, holding Staley accountable to the values that we claim to be at our institutional core and removing him from the Board of Trustees would be an essential first step.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Orient’s Editorial Board, which is comprised of Julia Jennings, Diego Lasarte, Kate Lusignan, Nina McKay, Katherine Pady and Steven Xu.

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