Last Friday, students from Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) met with members of the College’s Board of Trustees in the Cram Alumni Barn to discuss BCA’s proposal for the College to divest from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies within five years.

Four members of BCA—Allyson Gross ’16, Matthew Goodrich ’15, Bridget McCoy ’15 and Claire Belitz ’17—gave a 25-minute presentation followed by about 20 minutes of questions and discussion with the trustees in attendance.

“I think our presentation couldn’t have gone better,” said Goodrich. “I think it’s a victory alone that we were able to present to the Trustees.” 

BCA’s presentation focused on four different topics: climate change, the history of divestment, the financial logistics of divestment and the ethical argument for why Bowdoin should divest from fossil fuels. 

Questions and comments from trustees focused on both the consequences of climate change and the Board’s position when considering divestment.

“We had some questions we hadn’t necessarily anticipated,” said McCoy. “Some of them were climate change-related and we were more expecting divestment-related questions.” 

Trustees pressed BCA representatives on other issues, such as the extent to which the Board might consider environmental consequences in the rest of its investments, why most institutions have not divested, and the differences between past divestment movements, like the divestment from Sudan. 

Most trustees were impressed with the students’ level of professionalism and effort during the meeting, according to Chair of the Board Deborah Jensen Barker ’80 P’16. 

“I think it was exciting and refreshing for the Board to see a group learning about a subject, following their passions, and continuing to learn and engage,” said Barker. 

BCA is hoping for an answer from the trustees by December, or a vote from the entire Board on divestment by February. 

“Barry [Mills] has been an outspoken critic of divestment in the past; things have changed since then,” said Goodrich, referring to the faculty letter published last week in which 70 faculty members gave their support to the divestment movement and efforts to mitigate climate change. 

President Barry Mills organized the meeting between the Trustees and BCA last April after being presented with a student petition calling for divestment. Mills chose not  to attend the meeting on Friday in order to allow a freer discussion among the students and trustees. 

Mills expressed that while his stance on the issue has not changed and that he respects the activism of BCA, the petition to divest from fossil fuels is inconsistent with the College’s precedent for divestment set in 2006 when the College’s Advisory Committee on Darfur set “guiding principles”  for considering issues of divestment. 

Mills was unsure if the topic will be discussed or voted upon when the Board of Trustees convenes in February and explained that the Trustees always have the potential to address the issue.  

“They listened to the students,” said Mills. “The decision to divest is always in the Trustees’ court—it didn’t move, it was always there, it’s always been there.”

The Trustees told BCA the next step would be to consult Mills on the matter.

While various committees of the Board of Trustees normally meet simultaneously, the Student Affairs Committee held this meeting at a separate venue and time in order to allow available trustees to attend if they wanted to. Approximately half of the 44-member Board of Trustees attended.

Upon exiting, the trustees were greeted by a crowd of approximately 60 people holding signs and posters, thanking them for holding the meeting with the students. Barker explained that while the Trustees were not sure what to expect, they were cheered for and thanked by the students and community members outside.

“It was a positive tone to really appreciate the fact that they listened to the 1,200 students who asked for this meeting,” said Gross.