Amidst war in Ukraine, demands for financial transparency go unheard
The U.S. and its allies have imposed sanctions on the Russian economy, and many companies have scaled back their operations or withdrawn from business in the country — for a complete list, see the Yale CELI List of Companies that monitors corporate activities in Russia. However, the U.S. and Europe “have held back on their most powerful tool in their arsenal: a total embargo on oil and gas,” per the LA Times.
This embargo would have the most devastating and impactful effect on the Russian economy, which could cause Russian President Vladimir Putin to question his military action in Ukraine. What does this have to do with financial transparency at Brandeis, though?
Over the past few years, students across the country have lobbied their universities for financial transparency and divestment from coal and oil. At private institutions like Brandeis that are not beholden to public information laws, it is that much more important for universities to commit to being financially transparent with the student body and the wider university community.
Brandeis’ failure to be financially transparent has large consequences in the context of the current conflict in Ukraine. Per the Yale CELI List of Companies, over 450 companies have withdrawn from Russia — either at a reduced capacity or operating in full — but many companies have failed to exit business in Russia. This economic activity funds Putin’s war. Without a specific breakdown of how the University’s endowment is allocated, we have no way of knowing exactly where our financial contributions to the University are going, and, what’s more, we have no idea if any part of this money is aiding Russia’s economy.
In the case of financial ties with Russia, it is not enough to only consider direct aid — such as weapons manufacturing — because indirect support can also speak volumes. For example, the Russian military relies on trucks for the transportation of equipment to their military forces, per Forbes, so most automobile and truck manufacturers have halted production in Russia. More significant, though, is the Western participation in funding Russia’s oil and gas production, which makes up a staggering 40% of Russia’s federal budget revenue.
The U.S. and Canada have “banned Russian oil and gas imports,” but many countries are still reliant on Russian gas exports, the Forbes article continued. Although Brandeis has committed to reducing its reliance on coal and gas and transitioning to more renewable sources of energy, its proposed campus-wide carbon mitigation plan has not fully gone into effect, and it is unclear from where the current fossil fuels are sourced.
Brandeis’ tax documents “reveal vague details surrounding allocations and long-term investments” in University spending, and these reports “offer a blurred picture of the University’s … ties with specific companies,” per a 2021 Justice article authored by the Brandeis Financial Transparency Coalition. In an Oct. 6, 2021 letter to the community, University President Ron Liebowitz committed over the next four years to “developing a tool set to measure the Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions associated with its holdings.” Liebowitz continued that 2022 would be the Year on Climate Action and provided a link to a website that does not exist.
Now, more than ever, financial documents are so crucial to understanding how our tuition money is being used and whether it is being used in a way that aligns with the University’s model of social justice. This issue goes beyond just that of transparency: there is a very real human cost associated with how Brandeis spends and invests its money.
The University needs to make a bigger call to action than just that of unity in the face of conflict and crisis. Brandeis, if you really want to show your support for Ukraine, release your financial investment records.
—Editor's note: In an April 1 email to the Justice, Mary Fischer, Associate Director of Sustainability, shared the correct and working link to the Brandeis' Year of Climate Action.