Since its creation earlier this semester, the Advisory Committee on Darfur has been formulating a course of action to recommend to the Board of Trustees regarding college investments potentially linked to the situation in Darfur, which was classified by the U.S. government as genocide. Several peer institutions have recently announced divestment from companies that do business with Sudan.
At an open forum on Wednesday sponsored by the committee, several members of the Bowdoin community voiced concerns about what making an investment-related statement against Sudan might imply.
Roughly 20 students, five professors, and all but two members of the committee were present at the meeting, which took place in Searles 315. Before opening the forum for public comments and questions, the committee gave a brief overview of the conflict in Sudan and the aims of the committee.
According to Vice President for Investments Paula Volent, the committee plans to consider all input, finalize and write a recommendation, and present the recommendation to the Board of Trustees in May. Volent also said that Bowdoin's portfolio does not currently have any exposure to companies that are linked to the conflict.
Forum attendee Matt Martin '07 expressed skepticism about Volent's claim because he said there is no universally accepted list of culpable companies.
"Is this just a symbolic action, or will it have an impact?" one student asked of the possibility of the College announcing a statement against doing business with Sudan-linked companies.
The committee responded to this concern by saying that it did not know what the actual impact of such an action would have on the Sudanese government, but regardless, the act would be symbolic.
Assistant Professor of History David Gordon agreed that the gesture would certainly carry weight as a symbol, but was skeptical that it would have any effect on the Sudan government. He explained why abstaining from doing business with South Africa was influential during the Apartheid, but regarding the current situation in Sudan, he said, "A genocidal regime does not respond to divestment."
Because the actual impact of the College choosing not to directly invest in companies involved in Sudan is impossible to determine at this point, many attendees said that they would not want Bowdoin to make the stand simply in a self-congratulatory, ineffective manner.
"I am very concerned that we don't just do this as a gesture and walk away from it," said Professor of Studio Art Tom Cornell.
Likewise, Volent said, "It seems somewhat simplistic to focus on the endowment and make a gesture and move on."
One idea that arose and sparked much interest among the attendees was the possible formation of a coalition with peer institutions in order to have a larger effect on the Sudanese government through groups such as NATO and the United Nations.
"All of our peer institutions have terribly influential alumni," said one attendee. "I would really like to see Bowdoin take a leadership role and get together [with some peer institutions]," he added.
The Advisory Committee on Darfur has held three of five planned meetings to date. In May, they plan to present a suggested course of action to the board of trustees.