Last Saturday, during Family Weekend, members of the Bowdoin Labor Alliance (BLA) and other student activists hosted a teach-in on the Main Quad to educate students and their families about the College’s Board of Trustees. Student activists centered their grievances around James “Jes” Staley ’79 P’11—who has come under fire for his relationship with the late sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein as well as his actions as CEO of Barclays—and circulated an online petition calling for Staley’s removal from the Board.
Students set up a table near the entrance to the Art Museum and displayed signs identical to those removed from Park Row last week. One sign, labeled “Who is Jes Staley?” read: “Staley is the CEO of Barclays Bank, Europe’s leading financier of the fossil fuel industry, lending over $120 billion between 2016-2019.”
Another sign criticized Staley’s position on the Board as being at odds with the mission of the College.
“Are these really our values? Bowdoin, be better,” it read. “Let’s imagine a common good for all.”
According to BLA student leader Livia Kunins-Berkowitz ’22, the teach-in was an effort to increase awareness of the role that the Board of Trustees plays in the governance of the College, especially among the larger Bowdoin community, beyond just students.
“I think we were really thinking of Family Weekend as much less of a protest and more of just an opportunity to have these conversations about the Board of Trustees, and specifically Jes Staley, with the wider campus community,” Kunins-Berkowitz said. “Obviously, students have a huge stake in Bowdoin, but so do the parents…In certain ways, parents are able to wield more power in the sense that they make donations when many Bowdoin students aren’t in a financial place to do that. Our goal was really widening the conversation…and hopefully having more people speak out against it.”
Activists encouraged students, families and community members passing by to sign the petition calling for Staley’s removal and to directly contact President Clayton Rose. According to Kunins-Berkowitz, the petition—which currently stands at 425 signatures—garnered around 100 new signatures over the weekend.
BLA plans to continue its campaign in the coming weeks in order to attract the attention of Rose.
“I’m honestly a little bit upset that Clayton Rose hasn’t come out to speak, to give more information, just to explain his point of view,” Kunins-Berkowitz said. “Obviously, he feels really strongly about keeping Jes Staley on the Board, and I would hope that he had clear reasons. And I would hope that those are reasons that he would feel comfortable and compelled to share with the community.”“I think the question is really, ‘How can we have a conversation with Clayton Rose where he really explains how he feels? Is he interested in really listening to the voices of the community?’” Kunins-Berkowitz added. “Would it be listening in a kind of tokenizing way, or would he listen with the possibility of really changing his mind? I don’t know if that’s something that he’s open to. But, I think my hope was that, [by] seeing the petition and also listening to op-eds and letters to the editor [in the Orient], hopefully these voices might compel him to change his mind.”