Just months after WikiLeaks exploded across the international consciousness, Tufts students have taken up the trend. On April 2 a new student organization called Jumboleaks leaked a confidential list of Tufts’ investment holdings, which included various companies infamous for unethical practices, such as Goldman Sachs and the Monsanto Corporation, of “Food Inc.” fame. While the administration has pointed out that the list is outdated and that the university no longer holds any direct investments, it has otherwise given the incident little attention. The motivation for the leak? As the header on jumboleaks.org 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.”
As should be expected, the leak quickly became controversial, and the group subsequently received media attention. In the weeks since the leak, Jumboleaks’ story has been picked up by several pieces in the Tufts Daily as well as the Huffington Post and Forbes, which mentioned groups attempting to jump on the WikiLeaks bandwagon.
Jumboleaks believes that this media attention is overall positive for the group. “Even when I hear people bitching about Jumboleaks I’m happy!” Jumboleaks member Will Ramsdell said lightly. “At least they’re thinking about it; they’re reflecting on the issue.”
At least for now, Ramsdell and other Jumboleaks members have the mindset that “no press is bad press.” This includes a “rogue” Twitter that an individual, unknown to the group, has been managing under the name “The Elephant Knows,” using it to network and represent Jumboleaks.
When Jumboleaks first got their hands on the investment information, the first step was to figure out what to do with it. “At first, we were totally down to go the traditional journalism route,” said Ramsdell, “We brought the [document] to the Daily.”
As it turned out, the Daily wasn’t inclined to publish the findings, but looking back, Jumboleaks isn’t displeased. “If they had printed it and that had been it, it would have been a lot less fantastic,” said Ramsdell, explaining that releasing the investments list on the Jumboleaks website was much more “explosive.”
The leak has elicited various reactions across the university community. Some were intrigued, while others found it insignificant and negligible. Still other groups and individuals were taken aback by the way information release was handled. Given the nature of the incident, concerns arose about how the student/administration relationship would suffer in regard to investments.
The Advisory Committee for Shareholding Responsibility (ACSR), a student group given great power in regard to Tufts’ investments, was especially concerned by Jumboleaks’ public release of university investment trends. “We work collaboratively with the administration towards responsible investment of Tufts’ endowment,” said Maggie Selvin, a representative of the group. “[It] undermines the work of our own organization, as our goal is to build a trusting relationship with the board in order to discuss these issues in an informed and mature way.”
Initially, the members of the ACSR were completely shocked when they heard of the leak. Soon after, this shock was mixed with aggravation. “Essentially, we were frustrated with the irresponsible manner with which this outdated information was brought to light,” said Selvin. “While we wholeheartedly advocate conversation amongst the student body about investment responsibility, this was a counterproductive means of affecting real change. The leak represents the disconnect that exists between good ideas and effectively carrying them out. We don’t view the leaks as having a wholly negative effect, but it promotes the wrong kind of activism.”
Ramsdell is adamant that these events shouldn’t negatively affect the relationship that students involved in investments have with the administration. He emphasized that Jumboleaks’ release of this document was an act performed by individuals, not an official Tufts group. Thus the ACSR, and any other similar efforts, shouldn’t worry about receiving the blame. Ramsdell and other Jumboleaks members have repeatedly highlighted the fact that the ACSR was in no way involved with the leak.
The ACSR works closely with an on-campus group called STIR, or Students at Tufts for Investment Responsibility. “We want an ethical investment strategy that seeks to maximize financial returns and social good,” said Caroline Incledon, the president of STIR. “Money is a powerful tool, and where and how it is invested can speak volumes. Therefore, we support community investment, and investment in sustainable, socially-conscious companies.” Incledon also added that student input in investment decisions is a key step towards upholding Tufts’ values when it comes to actual financial practices.
Incledon believes the Tufts community has learned a lot from this experience. “[We] learned that investments can have a powerful social effect, and many were surprised that the university could have so recently held investments in companies like Monsanto, the world’s leading producer of genetically engineered seed, which were at odds with their ethical beliefs or that of the schools,” she said. “The leak spurred a lot of discussion.”
The underlying issue of all this is transparency, and Jumboleaks, the ACSR, and STIR all have their opinions on it. Incledon believes that while the goal of transparency is valuable, there are different solutions to forging student involvement in Tufts’ finances.
“If students on the ACSR are given the ability to vote proxies and make investment suggestions, there will be a student voice in investment decisions,” she said. She believes this may be the answer to the opacity that many associate with the university’s investments.
Meanwhile, Selvin said that transparency is important, but companies will always have their profits at the forefront of their minds. If all corporations aren’t acting transparently, it may be unwise for Tufts to become transparent.
Jumboleaks obviously finds transparency infinitely important, and the group is grounded upon the idea that students have a right to know where their school is investing money. But Jumboleaks can’t take this fight alone. One member of Jumboleaks, who preferred to remain anonymous, said, “Jumboleaks as an organization can’t achieve transparency by itself…There also has to be the next step towards activism. It isn’t up to us to create an outlet for that kind of activism, there has to be a grassroots movement of students who care. It’s up to them to take the next step.”
In the words of Ramsdell, “Jumboleaks is just a catalyst, you know?”