New group leaks confidential Tufts financial information online
Published: Monday, April 4, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 12:04
A group of current and former Tufts students identifying themselves as "Jumboleaks" on Saturday posted online an outdated list of university financial holdings, citing financial transparency and responsible investment among their motivations.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 This would mean that the Jumboleaks document is wholly outdated.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not identify the list as specifically reflecting information from 2010, nor did it acknowledge that the information was no longer current.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.