When the first protest occurred this summer, the college tried to ignore it. (See "Banking Scandal Taints Colby Chairman," by Lance Tapley, July 13.) But as news about Diamond and Occupy's protest spread, on August 14 Colby's trustees — not incidentally, they're mostly individuals from the financial and corporate world — issued a statement saying it "strongly" backed its chairman, having accepted in a Boston meeting his explanation there were "no findings of impropriety" against him "personally."
The board made its decision hearkening to Colby's "fundamental values," it said, of truth and fairness and the "necessity of deep, critical, and patient consideration of complex issues."
The college's spokesman, Michael Kiser, told the Phoenix he wouldn't "speculate" on whether the board considered Diamond to have been treated unfairly by British and American regulators, who fined Barclays $450 million — or by a committee of Parliament, whose chairman found Diamond not fully truthful in his explanation of the LIBOR rigging.
The LIBOR scheme, orchestrated with other large banks, may have defrauded millions of people out of trillions of dollars. Barclays also has been involved in money-laundering and tax-evasion scandals.
More revealing than the board's statement was trustee vice-chairman Richard Uchida's comment to the Colby student newspaper that "decisions had to be made in the best interests of the college regardless of what was happening in the financial world."
He admitted Diamond's monetary contributions were considered in the board's deliberations. Diamond has made nonmonetary contributions, too: He secured Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, as this year's commencement speaker.
At the Gitlin speech, several students defended Colby's embrace of Diamond and his money.
"Philanthropy plays a large role" in the academic world, said senior Lisa Kaplan, 21. Diamond's donations had freed up a lot of money for financial aid, she claimed. (Colby's Kiser wouldn't comment on this claim, but he said none of Diamond's money had gone, so far, toward scholarships.)
Gitlin responded by asking whether such a benefit justified "the dominance of wealth" in society. He questioned whether Diamond should be regarded "as an exemplary figure." He said he was "scandalized" by the board's statement.
Other students agreed with Gitlin and Occupy. Gordon Fischer, 21, a senior, said in an interview he found strange the board's citing of "values" in defending him. The college's association with Diamond, he said, besmirched the institution.
"But if I get rid of Bob Diamond," cautioned Princeton's Stanley Katz in a telephone interview, putting himself in a college president's place, "what is that going to do to the next billionaire I approach?" Katz, an expert on philanthropy in higher education, directs the university's Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies.
Since "the need for growth and funds is insatiable" at private colleges, he said, the problem of tainted money is "endemic."
A problematic donor's "criminal liability," egregious immorality, or strings attached to the gift would present standards for rejection, Katz said. "The damage is reputational."
THE VALUE OF SYMBOLIC PROTEST
Gene Sharp, the 84-year-old Boston author who has become known worldwide as the guru of nonviolent revolution, recently criticized Occupy Wall Street in the New York Times for being "pure symbolism. It doesn't change the distribution of wealth."
But Occupy was intended to be symbolic. It's unlikely that even the dreamiest anarchist in Zuccotti Park thought the movement would literally occupy New York's financial district.