I normally ignore all of the posters that litter the entrance to my dorm. Why, in the age of the internet, anyone even bothers with posters anymore remains somewhat puzzling to me. Yet this week, one stood out. Bright orange. It read, “‘Business as Usual’ won’t cut it, #DivestBowdoin, Bowdoin Climate Action.”


The particularly attentive email reader—admittedly, not I—would have recognized the phrase from President Clayton Rose’s recent email to the community addressing, among other matters, news that the College’s endowment, for the first time in seven years, had generated negative returns for the 2016 fiscal year. Noting that the College remains on sound financial footing despite the endowment’s low returns, Rose conceded that “this new reality...will almost certainly require a shift from ‘business as usual.’” Together with comments from Senior Vice President of Investments Paula Volent, who said in a recent Orient article that the endowment’s negative returns were due in part to falling global oil prices, Bowdoin Climate Action has used Rose’s comment as a launch pad for its newest attempt to petition the Board of Trustees to “permanently divest [Bowdoin’s] endowment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies.” To advertise its campaign, BCA has seized on President Rose’s admittedly less than diplomatic wording, plastering the bright orange posters around campus.


Questioning the status quo in the manner of the posters is undoubtedly a vital aspect of our liberal arts education, of civil engagement and of responsible intellectual practice more generally. As a proponent of the divestment campaign wrote in a recent op-ed in the Orient, “Today’s business as usual is an America with nearly $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, where the majority of economic growth has gone to the wealthiest Americans and where falling fossil fuel prices foreshadow a looming carbon bubble.” And she’s right. Climate change is one of the most pressing, if not the single most pressing, political, economic and ethical crises of our age. Bowdoin College is obligated to do all that it can to address this crisis. Divestment from fossil fuels, even if only a symbolic gesture, is the proper next step.


But when it comes to public relations tactics, BCA should take its own advice.


Business as usual today is also an America steeped in perhaps the worst partisanship of our nation’s history, skyrocketing rates of institutional distrust, and a standard of civil discourse that is quite far from being, well, civil. Although it would be futile to attempt to identify the root causes of our political climate, the type of quick-and-dirty, tweet-able soundbite politicking that BCA’s “Business as Usual” campaign represents is certainly not helping. Devoid of context, nuance and any serious call to rigorous engagement, BCA’s sloganeering breeds animosity, fractures trust between students and the administration and creates barriers to serious debates about the merits of divestments by promoting empty rhetoric over weighty discourse. The appeal is evident enough: it’s easy, it’s quick and it’s business as usual in national and campus politics. It’s also cheap, reductive and destructive. But with matters as complex as divestment, business as usual won’t cut it.


It’s a shame that BCA has failed to see the irony in its own statement not only because of the damage that soundbite politics does to our civil community but also because it hinders its own worthwhile cause.


On the national stage, candidates and congressmen, insulated by vast campaign and political structures, can afford to step on some toes as long as it mobilizes the electorate. Even if their preferred style of politics does harm to the long-term political climate of the nation—which it does—elected representative politicians can overlook those consequences in the name of short-term action and garnering votes.


On a small college campus, though, things aren’t so simple. To begin, the members of BCA are not elected representatives, but rather volunteer, grass-roots campaigners with no actual legislative power. Even if the “Business as Usual” campaign rallies signatures for its petition, it strikes me as unwise to smear those in positions of power, specifically those whose support will be helpful to the divestment movement. How many members of the Board of Trustees—who will ultimately decide on matters of divestment—would be eager to give a statement to a group that is known for lifting three-word phrases from lengthy emails if it serves its interests? Not many, I would guess.


After a number of failed attempts at divestment in recent years, BCA is understandably frustrated with the institutional powers that be. In truth, the board could take modest steps to increase transparency. But making them the enemy, while perhaps therapeutic, is hardly pragmatic. When it comes to campus activism, especially on a small campus, activists would do well to be wary of making enemies where they could make be making supporters, especially when those supporters could sit in the boardroom or in the President’s office.


Nor will the sloganeering change many minds. For those already supportive of the divestment movement, the posters do nothing to deepen their commitment and instead promote an adversarial stance to the College, which, for the abovementioned reasons, is unproductive. For those opposed to divestment, the posters fail to present a substantive refutation of their position, making them easy to dismiss. For those still undecided, likely the most important demographic for the BCA to target, the posters offer nothing that would persuade an undecided to join its cause. An informational pamphlet, a discussion session or even an infographic would offer more than the posters, without any of the noxious side effects.

BCA has proved itself right. Business as usual isn’t enough. So next time, skip the poster. If nothing else, it’ll save paper.