Should the United Negro College Fund have accepted Koch Foundation Money?

  1. Case Building

The ethical issue raised in this case is of United Negro College Fund accepting Koch Foundation Money when the Koch brothers were being vilified by the Democrats to make appear as the bogeymen within the Republicans. The Koch brother were being lashed by the opposition. Koch brothers are usually involved in donating a lot of money to a large number of people and institutions. However, until now they have been doing it under the table and not announcing it publicly. But this time, as pointed out in the case, they made their donation public.

The main ethical issue raised here is that the Koch brothers had donated this time not with the intention of helping the minorities but to retain their positive image among the masses. Eyebrows were raised “not” over the Koch brothers’ donation to save their image in the eyes of the public for their political purposes, but on UNCF’s acceptance of the donation knowing the fact that they had done it for purely political intentions. Koch brothers were alleged for their donation as this action was seen as an act to suppress voters, to make the largest minority of America – the African-Americans vote for them and not the Democrats. UNCF’s faced an outrage for accepting the money that had been given as the most prominent effort to prevent the African-Americans from voting.

This issue clearly falls under the category of Kantian duty based “Deontological” model of ethics. The reason I think it can be categorized as the Deontological model because this model particularly talks about the duties and obligations of individuals and institutions out of good morals. The theory of deontology states that we all are morally obligated to act in accordance with a certain set of principles and rules regardless of the outcome.

In this situation it is pointing at UNCF’s action of accepting donation from Koch brothers. According to this model UNCF should not have accepted this donation and should have acted morally by rejecting it even if it meant lesser funds for the education and improvement of their group of people: the African-Americans.

  1. Facts about the Case

Koch brothers are known best for their philanthropic acts. They have been donating huge sums of money for conservative causes to individuals and institutions. They have a history of supporting efforts to disenfranchise black voters through their backing of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Moreover, the Koch brothers are also known for giving huge sums of money to Tea Party candidates who oppose many policies, initiatives, and laws that empower African Americans (Gasman,2014).

United Negro College Fund, a non-profit charity organization, is the United States largest minority education group. Since its inception the UNCF has been involved in various activities across party lines and has accepted money from people of differing political persuasions. It was not until late 70’s that the UNCF took on a stronger position and pushed back against American racism and the oppression of blacks (Gasman, 2014).

UNCF’s CEO, Lomax, is known to have close ties with the Koch brothers. On June the 6th, the Koch brothers donated $25 million as a grant to UNCF, of which a large amount of money will be used to give scholarships to African-American students to access high quality education. The rest of the amount will be used for supporting black colleges and universities and loan assistance.

Owing to his terms with the Koch brothers, Lomax accepted the grant which led to a large hue and cry among the political and industrial strata of the United States. The reasons for it are purely political. The grant had some strings attached to the Kochs. Basically the Koch brothers are being thrashed by the Democrats. In order to maintain their positive image among the masses, to gain political strength, and to cut down a noticeable chunk of Republicans’ African-American voters. By giving this grant to the UNCF, the Kochs are making efforts to create an institution that shapes brains according to their political and economic ideologies. Their ideology is to promote the privatization of schools, eliminating the existence of trade unions, and putting an end to government interference in industrial and social policies (McKissack, 2014). It is said that since the maximum proportion of the fund will be allocated to the Koch Scholars Program for students who want to study, “how entrepreneurship, economics, and innovation contribute to well-being for individuals, communities, and society,” the donation is basically meant to produce people that have the same ideology as the Kochs. This is seen as an initiative taken by them to create a large pool of their potential voters (Clawson, 2014).

Hence, among the political and industrial circle, the acceptance of funds by UNCF is not only frowned upon, but seen as an open betrayal of what UNCF is meant for. This is where the ethical considerations dive in.

  1. Stakeholders: Their rights, harms and benefits

Studying this case makes us conclude that there are following main stakeholders:

  1. Koch brothers;
  2. Politicians (political parties);
  3. Industrialists;
  4. Students;
  5. Black community;
  6. Government sector;
  7. American society / masses.

Research indicates that the UNCF has old ties with the white industrialist philanthropists – the Koch brothers. The Kochs donation to UNCF was mainly done as a grant accesses to sponsor the scholarship program run by the name of ‘Koch Scholar Program’ under their guidance. Research shows reveals that the white industrial philanthropists are going head over heels to support the education of black students with the sole purpose of educating semi-skilled labor force for their businesses. Their main agenda is to control the education system of African-American community. The money given out to the UNCF as a donation for black colleges and student bodies is intended to create opportunities for black students in their desperate times so that in future they are blind followers of them and they can benefit from this pool of supporters in their future political endeavors.

Koch brothers are the foremost stakeholders in this case as they are the ones who will be benefitting the most by creating a workforce and youth that work for their agendas. On the other hand the black community is another primary stakeholder as they are the ones who are directly supported by the white industrialist philanthropists. Black youth / students are the primary stakeholders because these are the one who needed a back for their education and future empowerment and they are getting it via the funds provided by the Koch brothers.

Thirdly it is the other political parties who are affected by Koch’s grant and UNCF’s decision of accepting it for black empowerment. Political parties are presently threatened by UNCF’s acceptance of the money. It has caused much outrage and some have decided to boycott UNCF because these opposition parties fear that their voting base will be reduced and a large proportion of the black voters will be taken over by the Republicans.

Then we have the industrialists who, I would say are the secondary, stakeholders in this case. As Koch brothers have started this scholarship program that is aimed at inculcating their ideology of economics and business into the brains of black youngsters, a labor force will be created that go against the current agendas if the industrial and government sector.

The government sector again is the secondary stakeholder in this case as the Kochs aim at instilling the brains of the Black students that government interference in the policy making must be eliminated.

Lastly it is the American society that will be affected by this decision of UNCF. However, currently it is neither being harmed nor benefitted by it nor their rights have been suppressed at the moment.

  1. Alternative Courses of Action

In my view the most important ethical issue raised by this joint action of the Koch brothers and UNCF, is the fact that UNCF accepted the grant extended to it with complete knowledge of the Koch brothers’ sole intention behind it. Although by any law, it cannot be held accountable yet ethically speaking it should not have accepted the grant because the philanthropists actually did not mean to empower the black community in essence but to empower their political positioning by gaining power through deepened voting base.

Now that UNCF has accepted the donation, it can follow any possible remedial action. Following are three alternative remedial courses of action:

  1. First alternative is that UNCF gives the money back to the Koch brothers;
  2. Make it clear to the grant providers that they will only make the Koch Scholar Program run if the seats for the other non-black students applying for scholarship in the black-dominated colleges are not reduced or dropped;
  • UNCF should apologize for its action and make their position clear to the public that they had no intention to be a part of the Koch brothers’ delish political plan.
  1. Evaluation of the Alternatives
    • UNCF should divest itself of their donation

This alternative suggests that UNCF divest itself of the donation extended by the Koch brothers. According to this remedial action, UNCF should return all the money back to the Koch brothers and say No to the malevolent brothers and their desire t do grievous harm to African-Americans. African Americans rights are best guarded under the current government policies. It is seen that the government programs are essential for the upward mobility of African Americans.

This money is tainted with the Koch brothers’ political advocacy, and as Professor Marybeth Gasman of University of Pennsylvania says,

“The Koch brothers’ political advocacy works to undermine the interests of African Americans and the institutions that support them.”

According to her, the Kochs aim at shrinking the federal government whilst the federal government programs are aimed at building the black middle class.

Although the supporters of the donation, like Riley, argue that the net effect of all the government’s so-called helpful policies have only retarded the economic progress for black Americans. However, according to my study, I think it is in the best interest for both the Black community and government. UNCF lobbies for some government policies that the Koch brothers would prefer to see ended. The duo wants to take control of the black community’s youngsters just for their own devilish political aims. At the end of the day it will harm the African Americans. Their union-bursting efforts hurt African American mobility. Unions have been historically known for increasing the economic mobility of African American workers. However, the Koch-funded organizations such as Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the competitive Enterprise Institute, the Reason Foundation, have played an active role in destroying the unions. In fact, for instance the Koch-backed entities have helped finance Gov. Scott Walker’s election campaign who has been the most prolific political leader in Wisconsin to lead anti-union efforts.

Furthermore, by returning the money back to the brothers, they won’t be able to brainwash the black American youth against the government. They won’t be able to use them for their political and business motifs. Moreover, like this their desire to control the education of the Black Americans and produce robots out of Black dominated colleges who are programmed to act like the Kochs want, will fail. Students will be free to go by their will and chose ideology what they like.

Hence, in this course of action the main benefactors will be the government, the African-American labor force, the black student body, the private industrial sector, the black community, and the politicians.

  • Set a specific policy that non-black students would not be denied of their rights to scholarship by setting up an advisory board

Out of $25 million donation, $4 million of those funds are reserved to help the 37 UNCF member institutions help students who have been hurt by the denial of PLUS loans (a parent loan program). The shifts in the PLUS eligibility standards have resulted in many parents of non-black students at black colleges having their loan applications denied, and those denials have been cited as the reason many students have dropped out.

The remedy for this action is to reach an agreement between the UNCF and the Koch organizations to set up an advisory board for the scholarships consisting of UNCF representatives, Koch representatives and faculty members from an existing school to review scholarship applications and select recipients. According to this remedial action course, recipients will be selected based on their academic achievements as well as their interests in the program’s fields of study.

This course of action will have benefits for the American society on the whole. This action will show that full engagement and not just money increases the odds of student access. This will be an indicator to the Black students that they will have to work hard to get the scholarship – they won’t get it just because they are blacks and the funds are for black, but instead they have to “earn” the degree by putting in as much effort as their white or other non-black counterparts are putting in to get into a black college. This will instill a sense of dedication, hard work and passion among the black youth yet it will be a sign for the others that they will be treated equally as their black counterparts even in black colleges.

Again this will uplift the American youth and the American society as a whole will progress. The industries will get better trained, better skilled, talented employees as the admissions in the colleges will be equitable and merit based and not racist. Students getting admission on merit and equity mean more productive employees for the businesses in future, more potential entrepreneurs and innovators, resulting in an increased productivity of the organizations. The American business sector and the American economy on the whole will prosper.

  • UNCF to apologize in public and enter an agreement with the Kochs that the curriculum will not be influenced by their ideologies but will be based on what the other non-Koch funded universities follow

The hue and cry, all the anger and the outrage post Kochs donation to UNCF, has nothing to do with the “use” of the funds. In fact people have problem with the “source” of the funds. Most of the people among the masses feel that the Kochs are trying to take over their organization, their ideology, their political incentives by creating a black force that they plan to control through their minds – by giving education the way they want and not what people actually want through their free will.

The acceptance of this donation has crippled UNCF’s image in the eyes of not just the politicians, who fear that the Kochs are trying to steal away their voters by suppressing them, but the public too, because the majority of the public thinks that UNCF betrayed the real purpose of its existence. There is a feeling among people that the UNCF has killed the very soul of it by accepting money that is intended for evil purposes and for the Kochs to amass their wealth on the graves of others’ mental freedom.

Hence, apologizing for their action might help UNCF to regain their lost positive image. Its action has rendered it an image of a charitable organization that has become its own irony. By this remedial action the biggest benefactor will be the UNCF itself as it will likely mend its distorted image. The government and the politicians will benefit in a way that the youth won’t be brainwashed and they will be credible potential voters for future. Plus the black community will benefit from this action too. Their youth will not be instilled with someone else’s ideology. Rather they will have their own thought process, their own free will as to what political decisions to make in future.

All of the above mentioned alternatives satisfy the deontology model of ethics for this model emphasizes on doing moral deeds and fulfilling moral obligations even if it means compromising on personal benefits. Here in all the remedial course of actions suggested truly follow this model as they all make it a binding on UNCF (the benefactor of the donation) to let go of financial benefits for the sake of the good of the society on the whole and for the victory of good deeds over evil intentions of the Koch brothers.

  1. Recommendation

I would recommend the first alternative of divesting funds from UNCF. The CEO of UNCF should return the money back to the Koch duo. Lomax’s acceptance of donations is not only hostile to the rights and dignity of public employees but also a profound betrayal of the ideals of the civil rights movement. This can be said so because Koch brothers’ gesture was not out of sympathy for the black Americans but for their own political agenda. Giving someone money just to suppress them, their voice and their opinion, is neither justice nor charitable. It is cover.

As a result of UNCF’s acceptance of the loan, one of the country’s major unions has severed 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.

There are pure political agendas behind Kochs’ $25 million funding. This money will specifically channelized for the funding of historically black colleges, loan assistance and the creation of a ‘Koch Scholar Program’. The Koch brothers will have two out of five votes on who receives the scholarships. Moreover, taking into account their history in donations, the Koch brothers had never been so open about their charities. But this time they made it sure to make it public. By indulging into public display of charitable act for the good of black community shows the intention of the Kochs that they wanted to gain popularity among the Africans Americans to gain their loyalties and hence votes. Plus by gaining their loyalties and being kind to them in terms of money donated, they will be able to control them and make them take actions based on their ideologies.

Furthermore, by the boycott of AFSCME, students are the main stakeholders who have faced the brunt of it. For more than a decade, sophomores and juniors have been able to intern with the union, and received a $4000 stipend plus a $5000 scholarship. Now as a result of breaking up of all ties with the UNCF, the union will maintain its stance of boycotting students on Koch scholarship while UNCF is adamant on retaining the money, the students are left behind to compete for scholarships based on what Kochs want.

The remedial alternative recommended above, of giving away their money back, will end all hostilities from the public, government, politicians from the opposition and at the same time benefit the black students in the long term. Although it might seem to them unfair by taking back their scholarships, however, it will be beneficial for them in the long run as they will have their own voice, their own opinion, and won’t be suppressed by the Kochs to do as they want just because they have lent money to them.

This remedy coincides with the deontology model of ethics because it requires to go for the moral act despite the fact that the UNCF will have to sacrifice their financial benefit. Deontological ethics are concerned with what people do, not thinking about the consequences for their actions. According to this model, individuals are required to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do and avoid the right things because they are wrong without even considering the consequences.

Thus, this remedy seeks to go for the right, moral deed by returning the money and avoid bad deed by shunning the Kochs’ funds. For the aforementioned ethical issue and the remedy suggested, we have a professional code of ethics structured by National Association of Fellowship Advisors. NAFA is a professional organization comprised of individuals engaged in the practice of advising college and university students who apply for scholarships and fellowships; institutions of higher education that promote and celebrate the process of applying for competitive scholarships and fellowships as an educational enterprise; and foundations and organizations that administer competitive scholarship ad fellowship programs.

NAFA has a code of ethics for everyone who gives or applies funds for scholarship. Among several sections, the following two codes of ethics are applicable in this situation:

  • “Integrity.We agree to conduct ourselves responsibly and ethically in our relationships with students, colleagues at our institutions, and each other. We will approach all candidates and scholarships with the goal to maintain integrity in both our relationships and our approach to the scholarship process.”
  • “Fairness.We have an obligation to treat candidates and each other fairly, equitably, and in a non- discriminatory manner.”




Burrowes, Courtney. Should Black Colleges Accept Donations from the Koch Brothers? 23rd July 2014.

Clawson, Laura. AFSCME parts ways with the United Negro College Fund over Koch brothers money. 25th July 2014.

Gasman, Marybeth. Give the Money Back. 12th June 2014.

Jaschik, Scott. The Wrong $25 Million? 9th June 2014.

John, Arit. Major Union Blacklists United Negro College Fund for Koch Brothers Relationship. 10th July 2014.

Leef, George. Koch Derangement Syndrome Breaks Out After $25 Million Donation to United Negro College Fund. 6 June 2014.

Martin, Roland S. UNCF Shouldn’t apologize for 25 million Koch Brothers’ donation. 2014.

McKissack, Fred. United Negro College Fund Corrupted by Koch Money. 2014.

NAFA. Mission and Code of Ethics. 2015.

Starr, Terrell Jermaine. 7 Disturbing Facts about the Koch Brothers’ Relationship with Race and Civil Rights. 2nd October 2014.