October 21, 2012

Colby trustees' leader targeted during protest

By Ben McCanna bmccanna@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- Protesters and counter-protesters gathered Saturday on the Colby College campus green to voice their opinions on Robert Diamond -- the embattled chairman of Colby's board of trustees -- and the anti-Diamond protesters won a small victory.

click image to enlarge

DEMONSTRATION: Colby College students Shelby O'Neill, center, and Uzoma Orchingwa, right, clash with fellow student Steve Carroll, left, outside the Diamond Building at the college during a protest against Bob Diamond protest organized by Occupy Augusta and concerned Colby College students on Saturday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Diamond, a 1973 Colby graduate, was at the center of an interest rate-fixing scandal this summer for his role as chief executive officer of the British bank Barclays. Diamond has since resigned his post, but he remains chairman of the board at Colby.

Some people want that to change, however.

For more than an hour Saturday morning, 10 student protesters and about 15 members of Occupy Augusta stood in light rain, clutching handwritten signs, hoping to confront Diamond after a scheduled board meeting.

The encounter never materialized, but two student organizers were invited inside to make their case to two trustees, including Vice Chairman Richard Uchida. After the private meeting, the students emerged and addressed a jubilant crowd.

Sophomore Shelby O'Neill and senior Gordon Fischer said the trustees were receptive to the group's concerns and encouraged them to host a schoolwide forum to discuss Diamond's role at the private, liberal arts college of 1,800 students.

"The board seems to be willing to have that conversation and respect that conversation," said O'Neill, who is pursuing majors in government and philosophy.

The two board members were unavailble for a reporter's questions. Likewise, a Colby spokesman denied a reporter's request to interview Diamond.

So far, the college has stood behind Diamond. In August, at Diamond's request, the board met in executive session to discuss the scandal. After a lengthy discussion among more than 30 trustees, the board "strongly affirmed its support of Mr. Diamond as chair," according an Aug. 14 news release on the college's website.

O'Neill said students deserved a voice in that decision, and the forum will serve as a significant step in the right direction, even if it's non-binding.

Just minutes after the announcement, another protest group arrived on the green. Six young men stood outside the Diamond Building and shouted slogans of support for the building's namesake. Steve Carroll, a junior, held aloft a cardboard sign attached to a pool cue. The sign had a simple message: "He built this."

Carroll, a government major from Philadelphia, Pa., was soon surrounded by anti-Diamond protesters seeking answers.

"I think there should be a distinction between what (Diamond) has done for Colby and what he's done on Wall Street," Carroll said. "It's blown out of proportion. If you look at his track record on the board of trustees, it's hard to argue that he's done poorly for this school.

"He sends Colby students to Barclays for job interviews. He helps people get connected on Wall Street. He does invaluable good for this school."

Carroll said Diamond is a frequent topic among his peers in economics and government studies and he is largely supported in those circles.

Sydney Morison, a sophomore who believes Diamond's presence on the board compromises Colby's values, said the subject hasn't gained much momentum in other circles.

"I'd like to see more discussion. A lot of people say they don't want to bite the hand that feeds us, but the hand is feeding us poison," she said with a laugh.

Occupy Augusta organizer Lew Kingsbury, of Pittston, studied government at Colby and graduated in 1977. He said he was pleased with the turnout Saturday, particularly by students. He hopes the student group will grow independent of Occupy Augusta.

"It would be great to pass the torch to these Colby kids," he said.

Supporters of Occupy Augusta have gathered at the Diamond Building twice before: a few weeks after Diamond resigned from Barclays in July, and during a September appearance by author Todd Gitlin, who was touring in support of his book, "Occupy Nation."

Several world banks were embroiled in the scandal, but Barclays is the only one to admit its traders profited from rate manipulation as far back as 2005, according to Reuters. Barclays has been fined $453 million by U.S. and British agencies.

In mid-August, British Parliament criticized Diamond, saying he had given a "highly selective" account of the bank's dealings, and legislators said they believed Diamond had been misled them, according to the Associated Press. Diamond denies any wrongdoing.

Diamond joined Barclays in 1996 and was on its executive committee starting in 1997. He became CEO in early 2011.

Diamond has donated an estimated $14 million to Colby in recent years, according to a published report.

Kingsbury said he would like Diamond to be held accountable for the violations under his watch, but acknowledges it's a long shot.

"Society only tolerates it because of the magnitude of it. The banking industry in total has become larger than our democracies. Our democracies can't keep them in check any more. They're too powerful."

Ben McCanna -- 861-9239

bmccanna@centralmaine.com

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