On Friday, June 6, 2014, the United Negro College Fund accepted a $25 million donation from the Koch brothers. I urge the historic organization to consider giving it back. This money is tainted and there will be strings attached.
I authored a book titled Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund in 2007. The book tells the story of the creation of the UNCF and its delicate relationship with white philanthropy, mainly the Rockefeller family. Research tells us that white industrial philanthropists supported black colleges in order to educate a semi-skilled labor force for their businesses and those of their friends, and to control the education of black people. The money created opportunities during desperate times for some black students at UNCF institutions, but that doesn’t make the motives irrelevant. Given these historical motives, I’m compelled to ask: What are the motives of the Koch brothers, given their past affiliations and activities?
Since its establishment in 1944, the UNCF has worked across party lines and has taken money from people of all political persuasions. They have often had little choice, given the lack of access to capital that African Americans have had throughout American history. However, in the 1970s, under the leadership of Vernon Jordan and Christopher Edley Sr., the UNCF began to push back against the control that came bundled with white philanthropic support – control that manifested in the organization not being able to write a check for over $250 without the authorization of Rockefeller’s associates. The UNCF took on a stronger position, began hiring more black fund-raisers, and launched an edgy Ad Council campaign – "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste" – that pushed back against American racism and the oppression of blacks.
Alternative Point of View
The UNCF's goal of helping students at black colleges requires a focus on the value of philanthropy, not the politics of the donor, writes Brian K. Bridges. Read more.
Times have changed. Taking a donation from the Koch brothers hammers away at the integrity of the UNCF. Yes, $25 million is alluring and could be used to help black students. However, the costs are too high. The end does not justify the means. The Koch brothers have a considerable history of supporting efforts to disenfranchise black voters through their backing of the American Legislative Exchange Council. In addition, the Koch brothers have given huge amounts of money to Tea Party candidates who oppose many policies, initiatives, and laws that empower African Americans.
The UNCF has also given the Koch brothers two seats on the five-person committee that determines who will receive the scholarship money that the Koch brothers donated. Specifically, “An advisory board consisting of two UNCF representatives, two Koch representatives, and one faculty member from an existing school will be created to review scholarship applications and select recipients.” This is dangerous and gives the Koch brothers too much influence.
I urge the UNCF to consider returning this money to the Koch brothers. Yes, I know the organization needs it, but the cost is too high. Call Warren Buffet and beg him to give you the money instead. Call Oprah and ask her to help. Call every wealthy celebrity/athlete/business person who cares about education and the rights of African Americans and ask them to give. Make a plea to every black college alumnus, noting that you need him or her to save the UNCF’s integrity.
As designed by Tuskegee University President Frederick D. Patterson, the United Negro College Fund is a hallmark of African-American ingenuity and entrepreneurship. It is the organization that taught all of us that a mind is a terrible thing to Waste. Please join me in letting the UNCF know that an organization’s integrity is also a terrible thing to lose.
Oh, and while you are at it, please make a donation to the UNCF and support historically black colleges and African-American students. It’s not right to complain unless you put your money where your mouth is. I’m making my donation right now.
Marybeth Gasman is professor of higher education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. She also serves as director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (John Hopkins University Press, 2007).
UNCF, the nation’s largest minority scholarship organization, recently announced a $25 million grant from longtime supporters Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation. The grant will support nearly 3,000 merit-based scholarships for undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students and offer $4 million in financial relief for the 37 UNCF-member historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that were affected by the Parent PLUS loan crisis.
It’s important to note that for over 70 years, UNCF has welcomed all donors. Our only litmus test has been: Do you share a deep commitment to our mission — a mission designed to create better futures for African Americans by helping students realize their dream of a college education?
For those of us at UNCF who devote all our time to helping young African Americans realize their dreams of a college education, we are grateful for this grant as it represents a major opportunity to support our students through college and prepare them for careers and leadership after they graduate.
As the head of UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, my focus has always been on understanding what it takes, financially and academically, for our students to succeed in and after college. Our research has identified critical findings about the impact of UNCF scholarships on the lives of students. As our most recent major grantor, the Koch partnership is designed to maximize these findings.
It’s important to understand who our students are and why scholarships are so important to them. Their need for assistance is 29 percent greater than other African-American college students – the racial group which is already the highest recipients of Pell Grants. At the same time, our students demonstrate enormous persistence, despite these lack of resources. Almost all first-year UNCF scholarship recipients -- 94 percent -- return for their sophomore year. 70 percent graduate within six years -- far exceeding the national average for all students.
Remarkably, a $5,000 scholarship awarded to an African-American freshman increases his or her likelihood of graduating by over seven percentage points. Looking at the big picture, an across-the-board rise in graduation rates of seven percentage points would graduate 16,000 more African Americans every year, as evidenced in our recent report: "Building Better Futures: The Value of a UNCF Investment."
The UNCF/Koch Scholars Program was created with this research in mind and includes 1,400 annual awards of $5,000 for undergraduate students. In addition, the activities of the program, focused on innovation and entrepreneurialism, are designed to meet the expressed desires of our students. Twenty-two percent of all our students major in business. Many of them tell us they are interested in starting their own businesses. Our students are hungry for opportunities to succeed in their communities, and many will start their own enterprises.
The UNCF/Koch partnership also provides critical support to our HBCUs, which have been hard-hit by recent changes to the Parent PLUS loan program. HBCUs – already a best buy in higher education, with lower tuitions than comparable four-year private colleges – play a vital role in providing educational opportunities for millions of minorities, many of whom currently come from low-income families and are first-generation college students. Though they represented only three percent of all four‐ and two‐year colleges and universities in 2012, HBCUs enrolled 10 percent of African American undergrads, produced 19 percent of the nation's African‐American bachelor’s degrees, and generated 27 percent of African-American bachelors’ degrees in STEM fields.
As we worked with Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation to develop this program, they also brought deep expertise from their longstanding commitment to higher education. The Charles Koch Foundation currently supports 340 programs at more than 250 colleges and universities across the country – both public and private schools, Ivy Leagues and HBCUs.
This year, UNCF awarded $100 million in scholarships to 12,000 deserving students, yet we still must turn down 9 out of every 10 qualified applicants. That is why we are asking all Americans to join in supporting UNCF and young African Americans who want a better future for themselves and their communities. These students deserve our support and we hope more Americans – of all political stripes and views -- will step up to meet this great need.
Brian K. Bridges is the executive director of UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, which has produced considerable research on the value proposition of HBCUs and African American parent perceptions of education reform. Forthcoming reports investigate HBCU graduation rates and UNCF HBCU costs. For links to their reports please visit www.uncf.org/fdpri.