Most of the United Negro College Fund's allies hated the idea of the organization working with and accepting money from the Koch brothers. Now, one of the country's major unions is severing all ties with the scholarship fund. AFSCME, which represents 1.6 million public workers, has ended its paid internship program with the UNCF over its embrace of the conservative Koch brothers.
Specifically, after the UNCF accepted a controversial $25 million grant from Koch Industries and, a few weeks later, the fund's president spoke at a summit held by the Charles and David Koch, AFSCME announced in a letter sent Tuesday that it was cutting all ties with the scholarship organization, according to BuzzFeed.
In his letter, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said that he was "deeply troubled" when the organization accepted the Koch donation, but didn't think the UNCF wouldn't support their views. That changed when UNCF President Michael Lomax spoke at Koch-hosted summit last month. "This is a betrayal of everything the UNCF stands for," Saunders wrote. "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."
Saunders added that the UNCF's actions were "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." On a surface level, Charles Murray, the conservative social scientist whose controversial book The Bell Curve implied that blacks and Hispanics are genetically inferior, was at the same summit according to The Nation. On a larger scale, the Kochs have donated to voter suppression efforts that disproportionately affect minorities.
There's also the matter of accepting the funding in the first place. The $25 million the Koch's donated, which will go towards funding for historically black colleges, loan assistance and the creation of a "Koch Scholars" program. The Koch brothers will have two out of five votes on who receives the scholarships. As The Washington Post noted, the Koch brothers are usually private about their donations, but were very public about the good they're doing for the black community in this one instance.
The concern that, despite how much the money is needed, the UNCF made a deal with the devil isn't unique to AFSCME. But it seems somewhat "deeply hostile to the rights and dignity" of college students of color to end the AFSCME/UNCF Union Scholars program on September 1. For over a decade sophomores and juniors have been able to intern with the union, and received a $4,000 stipend plus a $5,000 scholarship. A union spokesman told The Huffington Post that AFSCME donates $50,000 to $60,000 a year for the scholarship program and "hundreds of thousands" of dollars annually. The union will have its high ground and the UNCF will have its money, but students will be left to compete for scholarships based on what the Kochs want.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.