In the fall of 2019, behind closed doors, Bowdoin’s Board of Trustees reviewed Trustee Jes Staley’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein and unanimously decided that there was “nothing in Jes Staley’s actions or behavior that warranted the Board taking any action.” I am calling on Bowdoin’s Board of Trustees to reconsider this decision. Two years may have passed, but it is never too late to speak out against those who enable sexual violence, let alone someone who maintained a personal and professional relationship for at least 15 years with one of the most notorious sexual predators of our time.
Jes Staley’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein began in 2000, when Staley directed JPMorgan’s Asset Management division, of which Epstein was a client. In 2007, Jeffrey Epstein was convicted of soliciting dozens of young girls for massages and sexual favors, yet this did not dissuade Staley from maintaining his relationship. In fact, in 2008, Staley visited Epstein in Florida, where he was serving his sentence for these crimes. Also in 2008, compliance officers at JPMorgan recommended that the bank drop Epstein as a client due to his criminal offenses and status as a sex offender, but JPMorgan executive Mary C. Erdoes intervened to keep Epstein as a client. The New York Times reported that four former JPMorgan employees suggested that Erdoes, who had never formally met Epstein, was acting at the behest of Jes Staley, with whom Epstein had a long-term relationship.
Photographs from 2011 depict Staley with Epstein in Epstein’s Manhattan mansion around the time that Staley, Epstein and Bill Gates were collaborating on a project to create a “Global Health Investment Fund.” A spokesman for Staley confirmed that he twice visited Epstein at his private island—the island where Epstein sex trafficked hundreds of women and girls. The #MeToo movement taught us that a handful of monstrous men are not solely responsible for America’s pervasive culture of sexual violence against women. It is those that enable these men, the friends and colleagues who look the other way even when the evidence is clear, that have permitted this culture to persist for far too long.
Unfortunately, Staley’s relationship with Epstein is not the only way his actions violate Bowdoin’s community values. In 2016, England’s Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority fined Staley 642,000 Euros for suppressing whistleblowers at Barclays Bank, where he has served as the chief executive since he left JPMorgan in 2013. According to BBC news, “when he received anonymous allegations against a senior member of staff, who was also a friend, he set the bank’s own internal investigations unit to work to discover the identity of the whistleblower.” At Bowdoin, we value free speech; Staley’s efforts to silence his employees should be concerning. Presumably, a trustee who represents Bowdoin and wields considerable power over this institution should exemplify our values. Jes Staley is, at best, a man with poor judgement and a dubious moral compass. While these qualities certainly don’t constitute crimes, I believe they should disqualify him from holding a position that comes with tremendous honor and power.
It is no secret that Jes Staley chaired the search committee that led to Clayton Rose’s appointment as the president of Bowdoin. The New York Times reported, “As a trustee of Bowdoin College, [Staley] helped install as President Clayton S. Rose, a longtime friend who was seen as an unconventional candidate because he didn’t have tenure and had spent 20 years in banking before starting a second career in academia.” In my most cynical moments, I can’t help but to wonder if the Bowdoin administration would have handled this situation differently if President Rose was not indebted to Staley for his job. In 2019, President Rose stated that Staley “represents all that is great about Bowdoin and the culture and the values here.” At Bowdoin, we hold free speech as one of our core values. At Bowdoin, we have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault. I certainly hope President Rose would not still stand by his statement about Staley. If President Rose and the Bowdoin administration truly take seriously the issue of sexual violence and the voices of Bowdoin women and survivors, they will immediately remove Staley from the board.
Livia Kunins-Berkowitz is a member of the class of 2022.