On Thursday, February 16, unredacted portions of a federal suit filed against J.P. Morgan unveiled new details about email communications between former Bowdoin trustee James ‘Jes’ Staley ’79 P’11 and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The filing alleges that Staley and Epstein shared “photos of young women in seductive poses” over email and partook in “discussion of sex with young women.” This news comes after over three years of speculation regarding the nature of Staley’s ties to Epstein.
On the following Wednesday, President Clayton Rose wrote an email to the College community outlining the history of his and the College’s relationship to Staley, who served on the Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2021. Rose expressed his disturbance at the recent news regarding the extent of Staley and Epstein’s relationship. Addressing a 2019 quote in which he said Staley “represents all that is great about Bowdoin and the culture and values here,” Rose wrote, “I was clearly wrong.”
Staley, whom Rose previously regarded as a “longtime business partner and great friend,” chaired the board search committee that ultimately named Rose president in 2015. Staley stepped down from his position on the board and as chief executive of Barclays Bank in November 2021 after receiving the preliminary conclusions of a two-year inquiry by British financial regulators into his relationship with Epstein.
The investigation began in the months after Epstein was charged with sex trafficking in July 2019. Epstein’s charge and subsequent indictment prompted the board to launch its own review of Staley’s relationship to Epstein; the board concluded in early 2020 that “there was nothing in Jes Staley’s actions or behavior that warranted the board taking any action.”
Some community members were left unsatisfied by the board’s inaction.
“I think it shows that ultimately, the people that are most protected by the College are the select group of people that exist in the highest halls of power of this institution: people on the board, [the person] that [is] president and the people that are in charge of the money,” Ahmad Abdulwadood ’24 said. “Ultimately, students, faculty and staff’s complaints are secondary to those people, because those are the interests that are most heavily guarded.”
Abdulwadood, who is a leader of the Bowdoin Labor Alliance (BLA), participated in the BLA’s 2021 campaign to remove Staley from the Board. During this period, the Orient published several op-eds and letters to the editor in which community members defended BLA’s demands and criticized the College’s relationship with Staley.
Sophia Tottene-Darvas ’25 acknowledged that Rose’s response was necessary but that she would have appreciated it if he had made a statement when the college community was first advocating for it.
“[Rose] had to say something, and what he said felt situationally appropriate. It also felt like too little, too late,” Tottene-Darvas said.
Student, faculty and alumni pressure for the College to denounce Staley began mounting in the fall of 2019. In September of 2019, former Visiting Assistant Professor of German Andrew Hamilton wrote an op-ed criticizing Staley and other trustees; in October, the Orient’s editorial board spoke out against Staley’s position as a trustee; in November, Christina Files ’79 wrote a letter to the editor calling for Staley’s resignation.
Mary Kelly Gardner ’10, who in 2021 wrote a letter to the editor entitled, “50 Years of women; how many more of Jes Staley,” was deeply disappointed by the recent unredacted Staley emails.
“It blows my mind that Bowdoin will expel a student for plagiarizing a term paper but their Board of Trustees can be very close friends with a pedophile and be committing this really serious violation at the corporation he works at,” Gardner said. “And not only does the school not bat an eye, but the president of the school says he ‘represents all that is good about Bowdoin.’ To me, that is just one of the highest forms of hypocrisy.”
As an alumna, Gardner feels that the College no longer represents her values.
“I just keep thinking, is this the best Bowdoin can do, for someone in Rose’s position, making the salary that he makes, wielding the power that he does, I wish that he had a little bit more moral fiber,” she said.
Several faculty members have expressed their dissatisfaction at the slow pace of the College’s response to Staley’s allegations.
“The Board of Trustees chose to put him—and keep him—in the highest position of power, privilege and influence in the College,” Associate Professor of Government and Asian Studies Henry Laurence said. “I know I speak for many of us when I say that we think the entire Bowdoin community deserves a better explanation of his role than what we’ve had so far, which has been this stonewalling and glib assurances from the College that everything’s fine.”
A professor who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions echoed Laurence’s sentiments.
“[Rose] gives no word of an apology or an explanation. There’s nothing fearless about admitting you were wrong only after it’s been made abundantly clear to everyone for days, weeks and years that you were completely wrong,” the professor said. “The College community is owed an apology.”