Last October we reported on an effort by JPMorgan Chase & Co. to donate money to the University of Delaware. The financial institution’s generous donation of $17 million wasn’t the reason it was in the news. After all, UD is already home to the JPMorgan Chase Innovation Center, and Delaware has received other donations as well from the institution. But the announcement set off warning bells when it became clear that the donation would be provided to fund a PhD program, and the financial institution would have the right to sit in on candidate selections.
Well, the concept seems to be gaining steam. Earlier this month, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) announced that it had received a donation of $25 million from Charles and David Koch, otherwise known as the Koch brothers.
According to the Charles Koch Foundation website, the funding was issued jointly by the foundation and Koch Industries. Of the $25 million, $18.5 million will go toward funding scholarship for “exemplary students with a demonstrated financial need” who are seeking to address specific topics related to entrepreneurship. Funding will also support school programs and other auxiliary projects. The remaining $6.5 million will provide general funding for historically black colleges and universities (HCBUs) and the UNCF, with $4 million going toward helping the institutions and students affected by funding shortfalls as a result of the Department of Education’s criteria change to the PARENTS PLUS program.
On the surface, the Koch donation couldn’t come at a better time. The DoE’s changes have had a decimating impact on funding options at HCBUs and scholarships at those schools. So it’s no surprise that the UNCF graciously accepted the offer. According to UNCF President and CEO Michael Lomax, the organization has accepted funding from a wide breadth of organizations, ranging from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Walter Annenberg. And it should.
But what seems to have been missed in the conversation recently (and there’s been a lot on all sides) is the expectations that go with the donation.
According to Grist writer Brentin Mock, information he received from the UNCF revealed that two Koch Foundation representatives will have seats on scholarship candidate reviews, “along with two UNCF reps and someone from one of UNCF’s partner universities.” He points out that it’s not uncommon for donors to have an interest in seeing personal interests nurtured through such scholarships.
“But given the Koch’s political backgrounds, will they also screen for prospects who’ll serve their agenda?” asks Mock. He also notes that other questions he sent to the UNCF, such as whether the donation was made with the understanding that the reps would be able to participate in on the decision-making committees, and whether there were other criteria to receiving the donation, were never answered (or at least not prior to press time).
What I wonder about is whether all donor organizations that have provided funding at or near these levels, such as the Gates Foundation and Annenberg, will also get to sit in on the next scholarship candidate reviews.
There’s been a lot of talk recently of whether accepting funding from organizations run by individuals accused of supporting initiatives that may have led to voter disenfranchisement was the appropriate step for the UNCF. University of Pennsylvania Prof. Marybeth Gasman notes that the Koch brothers have also been outspoken advocates of Tea Party candidates who “oppose many policies, initiatives and laws that empower African Americans.”
But while the Koch brothers’ politics have certainly drawn a lot of ire and speculation, it seems to me that the criterion that is really a concern is the implied expectation that their representatives should have a role in the candidate evaluations. Giving seats to certain charity representatives based not only on their financial support, but also their negotiating prowess to expect such a privilege is the red flag here. If the Koch brothers, like JPMorgan Chase & Co. have a genuine interest in ensuring good education for America’s next generation of entrepreneurs and financial leaders, then having a coveted role in their selection – and ultimately their philosophical direction – shouldn’t be necessary.