Home > Union Severs Ties With United Negro College Fund Over Koch Money... A Principle Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

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Union Severs Ties With United Negro College Fund Over Koch Money...


A Principle Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

by Lee Saunders
AFSCME President




 Last month, United Negro College Fund President Michael Lomax announced that his organization has received a $25-million grant from the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who also fund efforts to suppress voters' rights and workers' rights. I sent the following letter to Lomax on July 8.

Dr. Michael Lomax
President, United Negro College Fund
1805 7th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001


Dear Dr. Lomax:

As you know, AFSCME has a partnership with UNCF that began more than a decade ago. We are very proud of the AFSCME/UNCF Union Scholars Program. The program gives sophomore and junior students of color the opportunity to work with AFSCME over the summer, learn about the labor movement, and receive scholarship support during their junior and senior years of college. Through the program, we have helped dozens of students find jobs with AFSCME or in other social justice organizations. AFSCME has gained many talented new staff. And a generation of students has learned about workers' rights and the value of public services.

We have been especially proud of the Union Scholars Program and our partnership with the UNCF because of our union's commitment to racial equity and social justice. We are dedicated to providing the necessary support for young people of color to join the AFSCME team and build a staff that reflects the increasingly diverse population of our nation.

Therefore it is with the deepest regret that I write to notify you that we must sever our partnership. We are doing this as a result of actions you have taken as president of the UNCF that are not only deeply hostile to the rights and dignity of public employees, but also a profound betrayal of the ideals of the civil rights movement.

Like many supporters of the UNCF, I was deeply troubled by your decision to accept $25 million from David and Charles Koch. But I assumed that in accepting those funds you were in no way supporting or lending the name of the UNCF to the political or social causes or substantive views of the Koch brothers.

So I was truly stunned to learn that less than two weeks later, you attended and spoke at the Koch brothers summit in California. This was a betrayal of everything the UNCF stands for. The avowed purpose of this private event was to build support -- financial and political -- for the Koch brothers' causes. Your appearance at the summit can only be interpreted as a sign of your personal support and the UNCF's organizational support of the Koch brothers' ideological program.

The Koch brothers and the organizations they fund have devoted themselves for more than a decade to attacking the voting rights of African Americans. They support voter identification laws. They seek to restrict early voting and voter registration. They support laws that threaten organizations that register voters in the African American community.

They funded organizations that advocated for the Supreme Court's rolling back of the Voting Rights Act and the removal of the special protections the act provided to people of color in those parts of the country where so many of our forebears were killed for seeking to exercise their right to vote. The Koch brothers are the single most prominent funders of efforts to prevent African Americans from voting.

Lending your name to the Koch brothers' efforts to disenfranchise African Americans would be sufficient to compel me to sever our relationship. But it is not my only objection to your actions. Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, was also a speaker at the Koch brothers' summit. There is no person in America whose work is more opposed to the fundamental mission of the UNCF than Charles Murray. For decades, he has dedicated himself to promoting the notion that the over-representation of African Americans among America's poor and in America's prisons is the consequence not of our history or of the types of public policies the Koch brothers promote, but rather is a consequence of our genetic inferiority. The unmistakable implication of his work is that the UNCF effort to provide paths out of poverty and despair for African Americans and other students of color is futile.

According to Professor Murray, we and our children are genetically inferior. For these reasons, I must sever the relationship between our organizations. Effective September 1, 2014, we will not continue our partnership. I am also urging all AFSCME affiliates to sever their relationships with and cease fundraising for the UNCF. We must hold ourselves to the same standards that we promote through the Union Scholars Program: to practice what we preach, to fight for social justice, and to stand up for what we believe. I cannot in good conscience face these students or AFSCME's members if I looked the other way and ignored your actions.

AFSCME remains committed to the mission of the Union Scholars Program. We will work directly with historically black and other colleges and universities, faculty members, student organizations, and other allies to make internship, scholarship and job opportunities available to students of color. With disappointment and determination we will continue the work without you and the UNCF.




Lee Saunders
AFSCME President




Straight Up Conversation: UNCF CEO Michael Lomax on $25m Koch Gift


Earlier this month, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) announced a $25 million donation from businessmen and philanthropists Charles and David Koch. The gift drew a lot of attention (see, for instance here) and, mostly because the Kochs give heavily to conservative causes, sparked plenty of controversy. Last week, University of Pennsylvania professor Marybeth Gasman took to Inside Higher Ed to call for the UNCF to give the money back. (Full disclosure: I teach at UPenn's Graduate School of Ed.)  Now, I'll be straight. Personally, I don't get the fuss, because: A] I happen to agree with much of what the Kochs support; B] I think it good and admirable when anyone (whether George Soros or Charles and David Koch) gives money to the causes and candidates they believe in; and C] whatever I thought of their politics, it'd never occur to me to complain that someone was giving away millions to help people attend college. But setting all that aside, I thought it'd be interesting to discuss all this with Dr. Michael Lomax, the president and CEO of UNCF. Here's what he had to say:

Rick Hess: So, how did this $25 million Charles and David Koch gift come to be? 

Michael Lomax: Koch Industries has been a supporter of UNCF since 2005, when they acquired Georgia Pacific. I saw a real opportunity to build on the relationship that UNCF had with Georgia Pacific to get to know them, and Koch Industries has supported us with about $1.5 million since the acquisition.  We really went into serious conversations back in January of 2013, when we had a meeting at the Charles Koch Foundation.  We presented them our new public service announcement campaign, with our tagline expanding to: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in."

Originally we looked at possibly doing a program like what they already do at colleges around the country, funding professorships. But that didn't appeal to me as much as the idea of creating a signature scholarship program.  You know that's really UNCF's sweet spot. We're the nation's largest minority scholarship provider.  How low-income kids are going to pay for college, I think, is a national emergency.

I'm on the board of KIPP and Teach For America. I know we're producing college-ready high school graduates from low-income communities who want to go to college but can't afford it. So I felt there was an opportunity to focus their attention on an unmet need, building out an even more powerful private scholarship capability at UNCF. We award, you know, around 12,000 scholarships a year, valued at about a $100 million. But the tragedy is that for every award we make, we have to turn down nine highly qualified students because we don't have the financial resources.

RH: Can you explain a bit about the programs that UNCF offers?

ML: We oversee 400 scholarship programs. The largest of which is the one we do with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for high school seniors, in which we award a thousand of these annually based on academics and leadership. We get 14,000 completed applications for 1,000 awards, and the students who receive this award go anywhere in the country. Then we have programs of annual awards which go largely to UNCF member institutions, and the student awards are made by the institutions themselves.  We also have something called "the campaign for emergency student aid," where we pay the last bill that a student has so that she can walk across the stage and get her diploma.  We've raised almost $20 million for that program. We also have a program we've been doing with Merck and Company, with $40 million over the last 25 years.  It supports undergraduates in biological sciences, students pursuing PhDs, MD-PhDs, post docs--it's highly competitive and can go to African American students anywhere in the country.

We want to emphasize even more that we want to see more focus on UNCF member institutions. Because over the last decade we've seen a 78 percent increase in the applications to our institutions and a 70 percent increase in the acceptance rate, but flat enrollment. Our hypothesis is that the reason we're not reeling in more students is that our institutions don't have enough private scholarship support. So, every chance we get, we're trying to direct more of those scholarships to UNCF 37 members.

RH:  So how will the Koch gift be spent, then?

ML: The $25 million will be spent over seven years. Of it, $18.5 million goes directly into the scholarship program and the support that's required to manage it. There are 2,800 awards of $2,500 each, or 1,400 awards of $5,000 annually. And then we also will have graduate awards of $10,000 a semester, with 125 of those, and then 50 post-doc awards of $25,000 per semester.  Then there is another $4 million which will be distributed, $2 million this year and $2 million next year, to the 37 UNCF member colleges and universities.

RH: How big is this gift to UNCF, in the scheme of things? 

ML: We've been around for 70 years.  Our really large gifts began in 1990 when Walter Annenberg gave us $50 million. That was the largest gift between 1944 and 1990.  In 1999 Bill and Melinda Gates gave a billion dollars to start their program. That was followed up with another $600 million gift since. This is the fifth biggest gift we've ever received. But, you know, I'm still looking for more big gifts...

RH: Have you been surprised by the backlash regarding the Koch gift? 

ML: No. We anticipated surprise and that there would be need for us to place it in the context of the work that we at the UNCF have been doing for 70 years and the impact that we have on 10,000 students every year. The response has been what we expected.  The criticism has come but there's also been strong affirmation, particularly within the African American community, that we should accept this gift. Leaders I've spoken to, and I made a lot of phone calls in the last week, have said, "Take the gift and do good," and that's been our philosophy. You know we've been blessed to be the guardians of an institution that has made a powerful universal appeal for over 70 years and has gotten a universal response. We have over 100,000 donors, including folks from every point along the political spectrum. So the Koch gift is in the context of a very diverse space of supporters.

RH: How have you responded to supporters who've had a problem with the gift?

ML: I just remind them, number one, that we have never used a political or ideological lens to determine who can or cannot support UNCF, and that our appeal is to all Americans. We do this every day. I mean, if you turn on your television set, or if you see one of our billboards, they say, you know, invest in UNCF because, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in." It doesn't say only certain people can do that. Everybody can. That is a defining principle for the organization. We stand by it. Our board stands by it. Our president stands by it. Over the long-term the criticism will be muted by the work that we do and the impact we have.

RH: Have any of your supporters threatened to withdraw their support over the gift?

ML: No. In fact, some of the critics have said, "We disagree, but we're sending a check."  Listen, I expected the criticism, and it's a small price to pay if we can help our kids. Because the hardest, hardest, hardest question I have to answer is from a high school graduate who says, "I've done everything right. I want to go to college. I've been accepted, I just don't have the money.  Dr. Lomax, can you give me a grant? Can you give me a scholarship?" That's the hard one to answer, and the Kochs are going to help us with a group of students. But we need a lot more help.

RH: Look, I understand that reasonable people disagree with Charles and David Koch on the appropriate size and role of the federal government or on public policy. But I have a hard time making sense of why that means they'd complain about these guys giving away millions to help young people attend college. Can you help illuminate why critics have had that reaction?

ML: I think that Washington's partisanship has really poisoned the thinking of some people all across the country. For them, there's this kind of purity thing that, unless we agree on everything, there is no common ground.  Call me a pragmatist but, if I can agree on something meaningful with folks that I don't agree with on other things, I'm going to try to work on what we agree on and, hopefully, build a meaningful and productive relationship.  I come from a family of six kids. You know, I learned early on to compromise and collaborate. I've been a college president, and I've knocked on all kinds of doors. 

So I've learned that there's a way to find common ground. And on this issue you have to, because it's not an academic exercise. This is the difference between getting a chance to go to college or not. This is the difference between getting that degree that will enable you to earn a million dollars more in a lifetime or not. So I hear the criticism. I listen to it, I don't want to disregard it. It's part of a healthy debate in the country. But my job is to raise money to help kids go to and complete college. 


Dr. Michael Lomax - president of the United Negro College Fund (pictured)



$25 Million Grant Will Promote Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Economics to Create Better Futures for Aspiring African American Students and Strengthen Role of HBCUs***

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the nation's premier scholarship organization, announced today that it has received a $25 million grant from Koch Industries, Inc. and the Charles Koch Foundation. The partnership will provide nearly 3,000 merit-based awards to African American undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctorate students seeking scholarship assistance. It will also strengthen the 37 UNCF-member Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by helping them offset funding shortfalls as a result of recent changes to the Parent PLUS loan program.

    Key elements of the donation include:
  • $18.5 million is directed to the UNCF/Koch Scholars Program and its administration. Funds will be used to provide scholarships for exemplary students with demonstrated financial need and an interest in the study of how entrepreneurship, economics, and innovation contribute to well-being for individuals, communities, and society, as well as an annual summit, mentorship opportunities, and school programs; and
  • $6.5 million is provided for general support to HBCUs and UNCF, with $4 million set aside for the 37 UNCF-member HBCUs and their students to provide financial relief related to the Parent PLUS loan crisis.


"UNCF is proud to announce this new scholarship program that will help motivated and deserving students not just get to and through school, but to become our next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. We are enormously grateful to Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation for their long-standing support of UNCF and for helping to create new opportunities for earned success and a better future for our students," said Dr. Michael Lomax, the President and CEO of UNCF.

"For the last 70 years, UNCF has raised over $4 billion and has helped more than 430,000 students earn a college degree. This year alone, UNCF awarded over $100 million in scholarships to more than 12,000 students at 900 schools across the country. Yet, UNCF must deny 9 out of every 10 applications due to lack of financial resources." Dr. Lomax added, "I'm hopeful that this new commitment from Koch and the Charles Koch Foundation will spur others to come forward and invest in our students so that they can create a better future for themselves and their communities."

Charles Koch, Chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, said, "Increasing well-being by helping people improve their lives has long been our focus. Our partnership with UNCF will provide promising students with new educational opportunities that will help them reach their full potential. We have tremendous respect for UNCF, and we are hopeful this investment will further its effectiveness in helping students pursue their dreams."

The overarching goal of the UNCF/Koch Scholars Program is aimed at broadening educational opportunities so that aspiring African American students can better understand how entrepreneurship, economics, and innovation contribute to well-being for individuals, communities, and society. A key component of the program is based on research from UNCF's Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, which found that an annual $5,000 scholarship dramatically increases UNCF's recipients' rate of retention and likelihood of completion. Those who graduate with a college degree are expected to earn $1 million more than their peers with a high school diploma over a lifetime. And 79 percent of college-educated African Americans actively participate in the labor force, 3 percentage points higher than Caucasians. Furthermore, multiple studies show that those who earn at least a bachelor's degree have higher rates of employment, have greater lifetime earnings, are more civically-engaged, and are more likely to establish a college-going tradition in their families. The new program will dedicate $1 million to supporting research to help understand the drivers of success for students in college and beyond.

Noting that HBCUs award 20 percent of all bachelor's degrees for African Americans, Dr. Lomax added, "For more than 150 years, HBCUs have played a significant role in providing access to postsecondary education for millions of students, many of whom currently come from low-income families and are first generation college students. This important grant demonstrates the vital role these institutions will continue to play in educating our students."

Over the past 14 years at UNCF-member HBCUs, applications have increased by 78 percent and admissions have increased by 64 percent. Unfortunately, enrollment rates have remained stagnant. Despite the heightened desire and motivation, students are unable to attend and complete college, primarily due to a lack of scholarship funding. This partnership helps to correct the HBCU enrollment trend, providing HBCUs with financial aid to fund scholarships.

Georgia-Pacific, a Koch company since 2005, has had a long-time relationship with UNCF that dates back more than four decades. More recently, both Georgia-Pacific and Koch have provided support to UNCF in the form of scholarships and program funding. Through a wide-range of scholarship and academic initiatives, the Charles Koch Foundation currently supports 340 programs at more than 250 colleges and universities across the country, including HBCUs such as Albany State University, Fayetteville State University, and others.

The scholarship program will begin in the fall 2014 semester and continue for up to seven years. Recipients will be selected based on their academic achievements, as well as their interest in the program's fields of study. In the spirit of knowledge sharing and learning as part of the scholarship program, UNCF and Koch will also jointly sponsor an annual conference for scholarship recipients.

Interested students can learn more and apply at www.uncf.org/kochscholars.

About UNCF: 
UNCF (United Negro College Fund) is the nation's largest and most effective minority education organization. To serve youth, the community, and the nation, UNCF supports students' education and development through scholarships and other programs, strengthens its 37 member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of minority education and college readiness. UNCF institutions and other historically black colleges and universities are highly effective, awarding 20 percent of African American baccalaureate degrees. UNCF administers more than 400 programs, including scholarship, internship and fellowship, mentoring, summer enrichment, and curriculum and faculty development programs. Today, UNCF supports more than 60,000 students at over 900 colleges and universities across the country. Its logo features the UNCF torch of leadership in education and its widely recognized motto, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Learn more at UNCF.org.

About Koch Industries: 
Based in Wichita, Kan., Koch Industries, Inc. is one of the largest private companies in America according to Forbes. Koch companies have a presence in about 60 countries and employ more than 100,000 people worldwide, with about 60,000 of those in the United States. In 2013, Koch companies paid compensation and benefits totaling nearly $4.8 billion to U.S.-based employees and supported a total of more than 200,000 jobs and earnings of about $11.8 billion. From January 2009 to present, Koch companies earned more than 800 awards for safety, environmental excellence, community stewardship, innovation, and customer service. Koch focuses on philanthropic programs that enable inpiduals to improve their lives, find fulfillment, and realize their full potential.

About the Charles Koch Foundation: 
For more than 50 years, Charles G. Koch has supported research and educational programs focused on improving people's lives. Since 1980, the Charles Koch Foundation's giving has supported universities and other non-profit organizations to improve understanding of the institutions that foster societal well-being.



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