The City University of New York must really be rolling in dough. The school’s administration recently turned down a $10 million grant from the Koch brothers to establish a new financial center at Brooklyn College. The business dean explained that he would have to focus on the school’s accreditation process instead. As if receiving a large donation has ever stood in the way of accreditation.
Obviously, CUNY is bowing to its left-leaning constituencies who believe that any dollar touched by a member of the Koch family must be tainted. Never mind that Koch money has been accepted by Harvard University, the Catholic University, and Baylor, to name just a few. CUNY is above all that.
No doubt the administration learned its lesson from the public outcry when the United Negro College Fund announced earlier this month one of its largest gifts ever—$25 million from Charles and David Koch. A number of people demanded that the organization turn it down.
The most prominent critic of the gift is Mary Beth Gasman, a University of Pennsylvania professor and a booster of black colleges. In an essay on InsideHigherEd, she wrote: “The end does not justify the means. The Koch brothers have a considerable history of supporting efforts to disenfranchise black voters. ... In addition, the Koch brothers have given huge amounts of money to Tea Party candidates who oppose many policies, initiatives, and laws that empower African Americans.”
Perhaps Gasman’s stance seems like a principled one—even for $25 million worth of support toward the cause most dear to her, she will not compromise her principles. The Kochs recently gave $100 million to New York Presbyterian and there were protests outside the hospital by a nurses group and the NAACP. The nurses objected to the gift because the Kochs have given money in the past to a pro-life PAC and the NAACP doesn’t like the Kochs’ opposition to Obamacare. The protestors suggest that no amount of money—even money to help thousands of sick and debilitated New Yorkers—would be enough to tear them from their values.
Actually, the nurses and the NAACP are just examples of people who cannot see past their own noses to realize how some gifts are worth putting politics aside. And rather than see these donations as evidence that the billionaires actually may want blacks to succeed or may actually want to help sick people, albeit not using the policies the left might choose, they assume the Kochs are evil and that their every action has a political motivation.
The conspiracy theories abound. In a slightly deranged 2010 piece for the New Yorker, Jane Mayer attempts to explain why the Kochs have given millions to everything from the Museum of Natural History to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The answers she arrives at are, of course, political. The Kochs give hundreds of millions to cancer research, Mayer explains, so they can get on the National Cancer Advisory Board. They want to get on the advisory board so that they can influence the NIH. The NIH helps determine what is characterized as a carcinogen. The Kochs have business interests that produce formaldehyde, which may or may not be classified as a carcinogen. Therefore…
Then there’s the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. As Mayer notes, viewers are greeted with a “giant graph charting the Earth’s temperature over the past ten million years, which notes that it is far cooler now than it was ten thousand years ago. Overhead, the text reads, “HUMANS EVOLVED IN RESPONSE TO A CHANGING WORLD.” Mayer’s theory again is that the Kochs know they are contributing to global warming but they are using their philanthropy—again tens of millions of dollars—in order to somehow influence the U.S. government’s policy on climate change through a museum exhibit.
No wonder Mayer’s piece is titled “Covert Operations.” Some of these connections are so covert the Kochs themselves may be unaware of them.
Which brings us back to the gift to the United Negro College Fund. The Kochs are not giving to the fund to improve their public image, as some have claimed. It’s a lot of money and the people who hate the Kochs will continue to hate them despite it. In fact, much of the Kochs’ gift will be to support scholarships for students who are interested in entrepreneurship and the philanthropists want to have some say in who will receive the money. If the goal were to simply use the UNCF to whitewash the Koch brand, why bother directing the funds in any particular way? The truth is that if you want underprivileged black kids to succeed, it may be time for organizations—even as old and venerated as the UNCF—to try a new approach. If the Kochs’ opponents were ever able to put politics aside, they might understand this: The Kochs actually seem to care about the recipients of their philanthropy.