By James Clingman
The controversy over the recent donation by the Koch Foundation to the UNCF begs a discussion of politics, education, and business. After receiving a $25 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation, the UNCF and its president, Michael Lomax, took incoming fire from the AFSME union, which discontinued its funding of UNCF because it disagrees with the Koch’s Republican views. Was AFSME’s annual $60,000 donation to UNCF tied in some way to its support of Democrat views?
Here are some facts about the issue: $18.5 million will be used to provide scholarships in various areas of study, and $6.5 million will fund HBCUs that have been adversely affected by the Department of Education’s modifications in the Parent PLUS Loan Program. HBCUs lost $155 million because of changes in that government initiative.
The Koch Scholars Program will run for seven years. Full-time students with a minimum 3.0 GPA are eligible to apply. Koch representatives have two of the five votes on the scholarship committee. The funds will provide approximately 2,800 awards for undergrads at $2,500 per semester, 125 awards for grad students at $10,000 per semester, and 50 awards for Ph.D. students at $25,000 per semester.
Additionally, the program will provide mentoring in entrepreneurship, economics, innovation, reading groups and speaker series, an annual summit, and an online community to foster collaboration and learning. The grant will also help pay for administrative costs, research and evaluation, and tracking of students who participated in the program.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the “use” of the funds; it’s the “source” of the funds that some folks find problematic. “They are taking over ‘our’ organization,” is the hue and cry of some. (If it’s “our” organization, why aren’t “we” taking better financial care of it?) “Koch money is funding political causes we don’t agree with.” “The Kochs are evil; they support the Tea Party.” Some say UNCF should return the $25 million, and some have called for a boycott of Koch products in response to its political donations.
Wanting to find out more about the Koch’s and their business, I asked a friend of mine, a conscious Black man in the mold of Marcus, Malcolm, and Martin, who lives in Wichita, Kansas, where Koch is domiciled. Here is an excerpt from his reply: “From a local perspective, the Koch’s are revered personages. They make generous donations to good causes. They run a tight ship business-wise…They have a very conservative (in the non-political sense) culture, but are not impossible to work for. They hire blacks, but I am not aware of how many blacks are promoted inside the company. They pay well and offer good benefits.”
In response to my question regarding the UNCF donation, my friend went on to write: “In these days and times, who will step up and write $25 million check to replace what they want the UNCF to refuse? Not our liberals/ left/ progressives or Negro ‘friends.’ They won’t come up with 10 percent of that.”
Koch has given to the UNCF since 2005, the year they acquired Georgia-Pacific. They have also given funds to Spelman College, Albany State, Winston-Salem State, Fayetteville State, and Florida A&M universities. Where’s the call for those funds to be returned.
Another Republican funder, Las Vegas casino owner, Sheldon Adelson, contributed $100 million to candidates that black people do not support. According to Forbes, in one year Adelson earned $32 million per day! I am sure a lot of black dollars were included in that haul. I have not heard a call for a boycott of his casinos.
Dr. Dre, who made much of his money from black folks, gave $35 million to USC. Is there a call to boycott his headphones because he didn’t give that money to an HBCU? Can you see the misguided nature of this UNCF argument? Although they do work together, we must be intellectually capable of separating politics from business.
George Leef, contributing writer to Forbes Magazine, says, “Money is fungible. Any dollar has exactly the same worth as any other dollar. Money is also sterile–it does not magically transmit whatever real or imaginary evil the person who earned it may have done to the next person who takes the dollar in trade or as a gift.”
University of Pennsylvania professor Marybeth Gasman argues that UNCF should reject the money because it is “tainted” with the Koch brothers’ political advocacy and work to undermine the interests of African Americans, namely, federal programs that built the black middle class. I say, if federal programs “built” the black middle class, they can also destroy it.
Kudos to Michael Lomax for “standing his ground” in support of HBCUs. I trust he will not allow the political influence of any donor group to alter his commitment to maintain the integrity of the UNCF and to help black students attend college.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.