Projects
See All My Projects
Admin

Identifying Conflicts of Interest


Introduction


At its core, the Financialization of higher education is simple: Wall Street is skimming profits from higher education through predatory loans to students and universities. One of the ways that this process has been made easier for banks is also simple: the very people who have been charged with stewarding college resources are often also making decisions for banks and are even brokering deals between the two entities that have been bad for schools.  These conflicts of interest have been tracked by groups like the Wall Street Higher Ed Watch, a partnership between LittleSis.org and the Higher Ed Not Debt. 

After you complete this training, please take this survey. 


Knowledge

This research is all about tracking relationships between universities and Wall Street. There is a website dedicated to exactly this - it is called LittleSis.org, and it makes it easy to track relationships.  From a trustee's relationship with a big bank to an endowment manager's relationship with a hedge fund, the focus on the links that make up powerful networks is an important part of the Financialization question.  

LittleSis (LS) allows you to build lists of who you are researching in connection to your universities, like trustees, administrators, banks, law firms, etc, and keep track of your sources as you do the research.  Learning to use this website can help Roosevelt track connections across the banking and higher education industries.  

How to do this at my school

Are any decision-makers (trustees, administrators, etc.) on the Wall Street payroll--now or in the past?

Try to find an organizational chart or job descriptions for administrators to understand who's in charge. Usually the governance structure includes:

  • University board
  • Administrators (ie. Prez, VPs, deans, financial officers, investment managers)
  • Boards/advisors and administrators of relevant schools like business and law, as well as especially relevant programs, centers, institutes, etc. within those schools (ie. banking, finance, real estate, energy, etc.)
  • Is your school part of a larger (state) system/network? Who governs that system?
  • Does your university/system have any associated non-profit foundation(s)? What is their role and who governs them?

Do these decision-makers have ties to Wall Street?

'Wall Street' broadly includes banks, hedge funds, private equity and other investment firms, and debt collection companies, as well as law, lobby, or consulting firms and industry/trade associations representing any of the above. It may be helpful to know which banks have the largest presence in your school's area. The FDIC makes deposit market share reports available online and searchable by state, county, city or zip.

  1. Copy/paste every decision-maker's bio from the university website into LS and add all relationships described within, including the person's relationship(s) to the university.
  2. If the university website doesn't provide bios, Google each person to find a bio on another website where the person currently holds a position.
    1. Sometimes the university website will include by-lines for each person that can help narrow your search. Googling the person with the university name or the city where it's located may also help narrow.
    2. LinkedIn, Businessweek, and Forbes often indicate a person's past and current positions, but it's not necessarily current. Try to confirm any info found there. If you're using Wikipedia, you must confirm the information with another source; read more about using appropriate sources on LittleSis.
    3. If any bio contains gaps or vague terminology, like 'he sits on the board of several corporations,' Google the person's name + keywords from the bio to try and figure out the details of that position.
  3. Use the university's Interlocks tab to see where the folks you've added hold other positions. Add everyone with a Wall St. tie--past, present, weak, strong--to your watch list now.
  4. Google everyone on your watch list + the Wall St. firm they're connected to in order to get more details about these relationships. Add your findings to LS.
  5. Use the Network Search tool to see if there are any banks/firms connected to the university in multiple ways. For example, a trustee might work for a bank that has a toxic deal with the school.

Are any university power players linked to Wall Street in the news?

  1. Google the university name + major Wall St. firms. You're looking for people at this stage but you may also turn up business connections between the university and Wall St, which may prove useful in the next part of the investigation. Bookmark any articles you find to return to.
  2. Add any people identified with Wall St. ties to LS, including their relationship to the university.


Do any of your school's major donors have ties to Wall Street?

  1. Identify major donors ($1,000+) through the giving sections of the university, system, and business/law school websites.
    1. Look for annual reports or other donor publications, lists of honor rolls/society members, testimonials, fundraiser pictures, press releases, etc.
    2. Building names and information can also indicate donors who contributed to construction.
    3. If you can't find many donor names on the university sites, Google the name of the university + keywords found like donor, honor roll, society, inner circle, etc.
  2. For each site where you find a list of donor names, create a spreadsheet including the donor's name and byline, as well as their donation amount, date and other important details. Make sure to keep track of the source URL for when you add the data to LittleSis.

You can now do one of two things with these donors:

  1. Add sheets of donors in bulk, see what's known about them in LS and add Wall St-linked donors to your watch list. Google ones that are not on LS already, using any available details from the university site to narrow your search.
  2. Google each donor to find a current bio, using any available details from the university site to narrow your search, and add donors with links to Wall St. to LS and to your watch list. Make sure to add their donation relationship to the university. Use bulk add if more than one name on a sheet has interesting ties.
  3. Google the Wall St-linked donors + the university to see if they support specific programs/initiatives.

Are any high-profile faculty connected to Wall Street?

  1. Identify faculty in economics, business, and law departments/schools and find their bios or resumes on the university site.
    1. Look for studies, reports and books about finance and investigate who sponsored the research and how conflicts of interest were reported.
    2. Make sure to investigate further any vague aspects of the bio, like 'consulted for various companies'
    3. Google anyone who doesn't have a bio to find a current one on another site where they hold a position.
  2. Add anyone with Wall St. links to LS and to your watch list.
  3. Google new additions to your watch list + their Wall St. tie, as above, to uncover more information about these relationships and add your findings to LS.