New group leaks confidential Tufts financial information online

A group of current and former Tufts students identifying themselves as  “Jumboleaks” on Saturday posted online an outdated list of university financial holdings, citing financial transparency and responsible investment among their motivations.

The list, posted to the website Jumboleaks.org, comprises 35 companies ranging from CVS Caremark to Monsanto, a provider of agricultural products that has often been linked to controversial business practices. According to senior Will Ramsdell, a representative of Jumboleaks, the list presents a snapshot of Tufts’ direct holdings from sometime in 2010. Ramsdell said that to the best of Jumboleaks’ knowledge, the list presents the university’s direct holdings in their entirety for the time period it represents.

Tufts has long maintained that its policy of keeping its financial holdings secret is crucial to the success of its endowment.

Ramsdell declined to identify the source of the document.

Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler would not comment on the authenticity of the document. She did, however, tell the Daily in an email that the university does not currently hold any direct investments. This would mean that the Jumboleaks document is wholly outdated.

Ramsdell rejected the significance of this fact.

“I don’t really think that that’s relevant to the issue here,” he said. “The 2010 list is still a valid representation of what the Tufts endowment represents.”

The initial Saturday post on Jumboleaks.org did not identify the list as specifically reflecting information from 2010, nor did it acknowledge that the information was no longer current. Ramsdell acknowledged that Jumboleaks had prior knowledge of both of these things. The organization updated its website late Sunday evening to reflect this information.

Jumboleaks approached the Daily in mid-February about releasing the content of the leak. The Daily declined to run a story at the time because the significance of the information the list brought to light did not seem to outweigh the university’s desire for investment secrecy. The editors elected to cover the story today only after Jumboleaks independently published the financial document online.

 

A new player

In his interview with the Daily, Ramsdell was opaque about the makeup of Jumboleaks. He said that the organization consists of Tufts students and people whom he believed to be Tufts graduates.

Ramsdell described the organization as a group of like-minded individuals who were drawn together by a common interest when the document surfaced.

“The organization formed around the existence of the leak itself,” he said.

He said there was no hierarchy within the organization and that he had volunteered as spokesman largely because he was not fearful of legal repercussions.

“I’m one of the people in the organization who’s willing to come forward and use my name,” he said.

Jumboleaks did not consult the university about the accuracy of the list before posting it online, Ramsdell said, explaining that the organization feared repercussions.    

The organization vetted the document’s content through conversations with the leaker, or leakers, he said.

Jumboleaks’ motivation for posting the document appears to be multifaceted. On its website, the organization expresses dissatisfaction with the university’s decision to invest in several of the companies that appear on the list.

“A list of Tufts University investment holdings includes ethically suspect companies like Nike, Goldman Sachs, and the infamous Monsanto Corp,” the website reads. “We believe Tufts can and should hold itself to higher standards of investment ethics, particularly considering our image as a leader in international affairs and global citizenship.”

Despite the fact that the university does not currently have any direct financial holdings in the companies mentioned on the list or otherwise, Ramsdell believes that the list and the information it contains are still relevant.

“I think they made a move to increase their stability, but I don’t think they made a move to improve the ethical content of their actions,” he said. “I think the point is that Tufts has been OK to be invested in things like this … and their change doesn’t represent a change in philosophy.”

Ramsdell said that he believed Tufts students were being disenfranchised by their inability to influence university financial holdings.

“In a capitalist society, money is a vote, and we’re basically having our votes made for us,” he said.

Ramsdell acknowledged that it was unrealistic for every student to be able to vote on the endowment but said that, at the very least, the student body deserves to know how the university is invested.

“It’s our money, in large part, and the money of previous students. And I just think it’s something we deserve to know, honestly,” he said.

Name aside, Jumboleaks seems to have been heavily influenced by WikiLeaks. In two interviews with the Daily, Ramsdell repeatedly referred to the organization and its leader, Julian Assange, as inspirations. He sees Jumboleaks as following in the footsteps of his whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

“I’m a transparency advocate. I’m not a radical transparency advocate, much like Julian Assange, I think, would probably also argue,” he said. “I think this piece of information in and of itself is important. … But more than anything, I think bringing the leak model home to people is something that’s probably [going to] be the bigger service in the long run.”

 

Impact and implications

Starting soon after Jumboleaks’ website went live on Saturday, its URL began to spread on Facebook and Twitter, but its distribution appeared to have been largely contained to circles of students with an interest in university finances.

Sophomore Caroline Incledon, president of Students at Tufts for Investment Responsibility (STIR), said that she found out about the leak Saturday night after one of her friends posted it on Facebook.

“We’ve been trying to research the endowment holdings for a while, so I was personally really surprised because the endowment is not transparent, and we’ve never been able to get a list of endowment holdings,” she said.

STIR has no affiliation with Jumboleaks, Incledon said, but she expressed enthusiasm about the document’s being made public.

“From what I’ve seen even from the Facebook post, a lot of people seem to resonate with the idea that Tufts should hold itself to higher standards in investments,” she said.

Before Jumboleaks posted the document, only three students were privy to the university’s investment information. The university created the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR), composed of three undergraduates, in 2007 to allow students to have input on what kinds of companies Tufts invests in and how it uses its proxy votes at those corporations.

Senior Hena Kapadia, one of the three students on the ACSR found out about the leak Sunday morning. Unlike Incledon, she called it an almost reckless push for transparency.

“To have a website called jumboleaks.com (sic) — I think it’s irresponsible to put up any institution’s holdings for the whole world to see,” she said.

The administration grants ACSR access to the list of Tufts’ financial holdings, and the group discusses the investments with Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell roughly twice per semester. The students occasionally present to the Board of Trustees, though Kapadia said they have not done so in the last two years.

Martin Bourqui (LA ’09), one of the founders of STIR and currently the national organizer for the nonprofit Responsible Endowments Coalition, told the Daily that he had mixed feelings about the leak, both personally and professionally.

“I’m of two minds. It’s unfortunate that confidential information was disclosed in this way,” he said. “I cannot endorse these methods, but I think the awareness and dialogue it creates can be a learning experience for all of us.”

Gabe Frumkin (LA ’10), who was influential in the founding of ACSR and served on the committee for two years, was similarly positive about the sudden availability of the documents.

“I think it’s pretty cool that we’re able to have this discussion,” he said. “This is … a conversation that a lot of other universities are able to have.”

The leak comes in the midst of a national trend among universities to increase financial transparency, according to both Bourqui and Frumkin. It remains to be seen whether this leak will induce the administration to change its endowment practices.

“This is information that plenty of other schools make public of their own volition,” Bourqui said. “Unfortunately, at Tufts, the administration still has not made a real commitment to working on or talking about these issues in a serious way, as many of its peer institutions are now doing.”

It is also unclear whether the administration will pursue the leaker.

All three current students on ACSR, Kapadia and sophomores Kelsea Carlson and Maggie Selvin, emphatically denied being the source of the leak in interviews with the Daily. Members of ACSR are required to sign nondisclosure agreements, which continue to apply after graduation, according to Kapadia.

Carlson said that ACSR’s involvement with a leak would be counterproductive to the committee’s goals.

“We really appreciate our relationship with the Board, and I don’t think anyone would do anything to sacrifice that,” Carlson said.

Ramsdell expressed little trepidation about the legal implications of leaking the document. He said that Jumboleaks did not have a lawyer on retainer.

“As far as I can tell, there’s really no serious legal action they can take against us,” Ramsdell said.

Jumboleaks is hosting its website on servers located off-campus in an effort to avoid falling under the jurisdiction of Tufts network administrators, according to Ramsdell.

“We’ve read through a lot of the student handbook to try to make sure we’re not [going to] get blind-sided with something like that,” Ramsdell said. “And I think we’re [going to] be OK. But we’re definitely OK from a truly legal standpoint of national and state law.”

 

Martha Shanahan contributed reporting to this article.


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