No, Koch Donations to Higher Education Aren’t Unethical



Charles Koch and his foundation have a history of supporting higher education. Back in 2014, for example, the Koch Foundation made a large donation to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) to help support its scholarships for African-American students. Such donations are perfectly in line with Koch’s philosophy that education (and many other things) should be funded through voluntary means rather than through government. (I wrote about the furor over the UNCF donation here.)

Now, Koch is making another large donation, this time to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a national philanthropy that supports historically black colleges and universities. The gift of $25.6 million over five years will be the second-largest gift the fund has ever received, after a $40 million donation from Apple (but spread out over ten years).

The money will be used to launch a new initiative, the Center for Advancing Opportunity. Its focus will be on education, criminal justice, entrepreneurship, and other issues relating to “fragile communities.” The Center will pursue its mission by establishing new scholarships for undergrads and fellowships for grad students, making grants to faculty members, and creating think tanks on campuses.

Philanthropic gifts to support higher education shouldn’t be controversial, but “progressives” who hate the Koch brothers for their advocacy of limited government simply cannot refrain from protesting anything that they do. The idea that Koch funds might help to promote non-state solutions for the problems of those communities and support African-American scholars who see economic growth and self-help as crucial set off a storm of criticism.

Typical was the statement of Professor Marybeth Gasman of the University of Pennsylvania. She was quoted in this Inside Higher Ed story as saying, “I continue to question the ethics of taking money from the Koch brothers/philanthropies given their systematic and long-term disenfranchisement of minorities, including African-Americans. It’s important to look at their history of pollution in minority communities, their busting of unions that support minorities, their disenfranchisement of minority voters and their support of ultraconservative candidates and organizations that support the defunding of programs and policies that support African-Americans.”

To devout leftists, that list of charges probably sounds convincing, but even if every bit of it were true, why should the Thurgood Marshall College Fund turn away more than $25 million for a project it had conceived and pitched to other funders before Charles Koch offered his help? As its president, Johnny Taylor, Jr. also told Inside Higher Ed, “Believe it or not, we designed this concept before we went to Koch, which wasn’t on the top of my list of funders.”

No doubt Mr. Taylor looks more discerningly at the Koch brothers and their philanthropy than do academics like Gasman. She only sees the caricature of them as “ultraconservative” villains, but Taylor sees them as an ally on some key issues, such as the importance of criminal justice reform for minority communities.

The fact that the Kochs are not “conservatives” but rather libertarians–who believe that a decrease in the size and scope of government would benefit almost everyone in America, especially those parts of the population that struggle the most–is lost on people like Professor Gasman.

Fortunately, it isn’t lost on the leaders of the United Negro College Fund, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and others who would pay a steep price if they bowed to the blind ideological opposition to the Kochs.

That is the difference between holding an academic sinecure and running an operation that requires cooperation with diverse people.

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