The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees says it will end its support for the United Negro College Fund after the group accepted $25 million from the conservative Koch brothers and the college fund’s president appeared at a Koch event.
In a letter made public last week, the powerful government workers’ union, said it will no longer partner with or raise money for the fund.
AFSCME President Lee Saunders said the actions of the college fund’s president “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.”
The United Negro College Fund, or UNCF, is an American philanthropic organization that funds scholarships for African-American students and general scholarship funds for private, historically Black colleges and universities. It is known for its iconic motto, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
The fund accepted a $25 million grant last month from Koch Industries Inc. and the Charles Koch Foundation.
The Koch brothers are major contributors to conservative causes and are rightly criticized for some of the issues they support. UNCF President Michael Lomax opened the door for personal criticism when he spoke at a Koch Brothers summit in California.
Saunders called the Kochs “the single most prominent funders of efforts to prevent African Americans from voting” and said Lomax’s appearance at their function was “a betrayal of everything the UNCF stands for.”
Lomax said the fund never had a litmus test for donors.
AFSCME is the nation’s largest public services employees union and has more than 1.6 million working and retired members. The union will sever its relationship with UNCF Sept. 1.
The union gave between $50,000 and $60,000 annually to the UNCF for its AFSCME/UNCF Union Scholar Program, which has served 94 students since 2003. The program will continue, the union said, just no longer in partnership with the UNCF.
AFSCME is wrong and misguided in withdrawing funds from the UNCF over its acceptance of support from the Koch brothers.
The union is directing its anger at the wrong target.
The fact is many Black colleges and universities are in financial dire straits.
It is unrealistic to demand that UNCF not receive money from conservative groups. The UNCF should not accept support from just anyone. Of course the UNCF should not, for example, accept money from a white supremacist group. But conservative and racists are not one in the same.
The UNCF cannot afford nor should it allow itself to be subjected to a litmus test of only accepting money from Democrats or liberals.
The real problem is why UNCF has to accept money from the Koch Brothers in the first place and why historically Black colleges and universities do not receive more support for a cause that ultimately economically benefits not only the students and their families but the nation as whole.
AFSCME’s decision is shortsighted and misses the bigger picture of the importance of the major funding needed to help the UNCF fulfill its critical mission of helping thousands of African-American students achieve their dream of a college degree and a better life.