Black Leadership Response to the Koch $25 Million “Gift” Should Be a Movement For Free College Tuition

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Seven generations after the founding of our first historically black colleges and universities, they are still dependent on the whims of white philanthropy, just begging smarter and/or harder. If black leaders won't pick the necessary fight and demand higher ed as a human right for everybody HBCUs will not survive the current crisis. Do they have the vision, the will, the courage? Do we?

Black Leadership Response to the Koch $25 Million “Gift” Should Be a Movement For Free College Tuition

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Back in the 1860s the first of our historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs were founded with dollars from white philanthropists. In the six or seven generations since we like to think we've come a long way. But have we really? The United Negro College Fund's eager acceptance of a $25 million dollar “gift” from the notorious Koch brothers ought to make us all wonder whether we're really movin' on up, or moving backward, and why.

By the 1960s and 70s, federal tax dollars were a substantial and rising portion of funding at HBCUs. That was real progress, because public funding of black higher education implies a public commitment, rather than dependence on the fickle whims of the wealthy. But college tuition has ballooned one thousand percent since 1978, and federal funding has not kept pace. Today's students are burdened by onerous debt which lenders have used their political influence to compound and make bankruptcy-proof. Higher education is in now danger of becoming an inherited privilege of well-off families, social mobility in the US is at an historic low. Instead of looking for ways to target increased funding to historically black colleges and universities, the Obama administration has made it harder for black families to qualify for college loans, causing thousands of young African Americans to forgo their dreams of higher education.

With historically black colleges and universities in a deep fiscal and strategic hole, accepting $25 million from the evil Koch brothers is not evidence of sagacity, pragmatism or wisdom. It's a decision to dig that hole even deeper.

If the gaggle of politicians, preachers, academics and business types who pass themselves off as our black leadership class possessed a shred of political imagination and moral courage they would study up, they would talk up, they would committeefy and they would help call into existence a movement demanding higher education as a human right and free college tuition for everybody. It's not an impossible dream – other countries, relatively civilized places less wealthy than the US like France and Norway already do this. A movement demanding free higher education and forgiveness of outstanding student debt, funded by taxing the rich instead of borrowing from or begging them is the kind of inspiring vision that could put tens or hundreds of thousands in the streets demanding real change. It could mobilize churches and unions, small towns and big cities, the young and the old, and make no mistake, it's the only way HBCUs will be rescued from this crisis with any integrity. Over half of black college grads are now working in jobs that don't even require a college education.

Begging harder or smarter, or being willing to accept funding from even more devilish devils is not the solution of visionary leaders. It's the refuge of lazy hypocrites and cowards.

Progress, as Frederick Douglass told us, only comes with struggle. Real leaders know how to envision the world as it should be and articulate that inspiring vision to the masses. They know when to demand what is NOT being offered, and how to pick a fight, because we cannot win what we will not fight for.

Education, including higher education is a human right. If we want HBCUs to survive the current crisis, it's time to stop begging and pick a fight. It's time to demand free higher education financed by federal tax dollars, and forgiveness of student loans. If our black misleadership class cannot get with that, it's time to sweep them to the side.

For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at, and be sure to subscribe to our free weekly email updates at

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party.




To be sure, the Kochs have given "more than a hundred million dollars to right wing causes" (which is their right, by the way). But in the last decade, it's also worth noting the Kochs have given more than $600 million in pledged or donated money to arts, education, and medical research, including (but not limited to):

New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell: $15 million
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: $25 million
The Hospital for Special Surgery: $26 million
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: $30 million
Prostate Cancer Foundation: $41 million
Deerfield Academy: $68 million
Lincoln Center's NY State Theater: $100 million
Massachusetts Institute of Technology: $139 million

Here we have civic-minded business leaders engaging in their right to participate in the political process -- and also donating large amounts of wealth to philanthropic causes.

Yes they have a right to

Yes they have a right to donate to whomever they want.  However, their good deeds are overshadowed by their evil ones.  Like their corporate brethren, the Kochs also support/pay for legislation for privatization of public sector, the contamination of food industry by Monsanto, the silencing of whistleblowers, trade pacts that decimate US jobs/environments here and abroad.  If the TransAtlantic Partnership gets signed, you can kiss goodbye the few remaining legal avenues we have to protect labor rights as well as protections for safe food and clean water.

The Kochs make a huge donation to HBCUs.  But will they use their lobbying clout to fight the increase in HB visas that ship in foreign white collar (medical, engineering, IT) workers who will take away jobs from many of grads, HBCU or not, who will graduate in those fields?

Kudos to the Kochs for donating money to medical centers.  As businessmen, surely they watch their bottom lines.  Expanding Medicare to all would save businesses millions of dollars in insurance premiums which opens the door to higher worker salaries and more job creation.  But I didn't see the Koch Bros standing with the single payer/Medicare for All advocates; more likely they were funding propaganda to talk up Obominable Care.

Like their oh so effective puppet Obomber, the Kochs know how to silence the critics.  Obomber's dulcet tones spout a well-crafted script designed to hypnotize the sheeple while the Kochs write big-assed checks to appease the masses.

What are HBCUs for?

From my experiences with Morehouse, of all places, I can see that HBCUs face a challenge that likely plays a big role in their fundraising challenges.  What is their mission?    When these institutions were formed, black students were largely excluded from "white" colleges and universities.  That meant the best of the best of them went to HBCUs, because they had no choice.   Today, universities across the country, especially the elite ones, fall all over themselves to recruite black students, often with generous incentives.   That's a lot of schools with a lot of places for a limited number of students and very nice deals for those who go to them.    Suddenly much of the HBCUs' traditional constituency is gone.   So who do they now serve?  With many of the finest now seeking degrees from larger, more "elite" historically white schools, it seems the HBCUs are getting what's left, and some of those have very different academic needs from what previous generations did.   I've heard Morehouse professors complain that suddenly they're having to do remedial education for students who simply aren't ready for college, students who 30 or 40 years ago wouldn't have gone to college at all.     To a certain degree, similiar trends are affecting the skill level of teachers too.     So where to next?  HBCUs may need to figure out what their role is in higher education before they can, with any credibility, demand financial support from a society unsure of the value, or continuing relevance, of the service they provide.  

Your question is one that

Your question is one that needs answering but a lot of people take offense when anyone broaches the subject.

Your point about black students having more choices of schools (including community colleges) is a big reason for the problems facing HBCUs.  Even if every school was in financially great shape, the drop in enrollment would be a stumbling block.  Some HBCUs are courting whites and Latinos which angers many blacks but when the schools are suffering decreased enrollment they often can't ignore untapped markets.  For long term survival - not just surviving but maintaining high academic standards to attract good students and faculty - some schools may need to merge.  In addition, some schools may need to specialize, i.e., not be a 4-yr liberal arts institution but one that specializes in a certain field of academia - medical school, law school, engineering/technical school, health professions.   This is especially true for schools located in smaller towns/cities where there may not be much else to draw students to the school.  If the school specialized in programs not offered in the region, this would draw students interested in said programs.

This is Equivalent to Donald Sterling's NAACP awards &

Attending a Black Church [even though he's Jewish {but his real God is $$$}- doubt he'll convert to Black Baptist before his old wrinkled-ass 'kicks that bucket']. Meaning like Sterling, who IMO paid NAACP's LA chapter & the Rev of that Black church some chump-change [for him] for a PR photo-op, like-wise for the Koch Bros' 'gift' of 'just' $25 million to HBCU for some good PR [$25 million is almost chump-change to a couple of guys worth at-least $25 BILLION$]. Plus beside PR these billionaire robber oil-barons & slum-lords almost never just give away $$$ without expecting something in return- beyond just good PR. Case in point: Bill Gate's has 'given' million$$$ to public schools in-order to leverage corp {mis}Education [of the Negro] Deform in the form of Bush Jr's NCLB in tandem w Obama & Duncan's RTTT. FYI: Public schools are now buying a lot of Gate's MS Software & systems- IMO that's NO coincidence. Ditto for Gate's donations re: crops & vaccines in Africa [FYI: Gates is pushing GMO crops as Africa's 'salvation']. Wanna bet Gates is heavily 'invested' in the GMO agro-tech BIZ & BIG Pharma BIZ???

Like-wise w the Koch Bros. So let's see if many HBCU's now start to promote dirty tar-sands oil & gas-fracking [much / most of which will be sold on the over-seas market- so much for that 'it's all about US energy security' hype] which the Koch Bros are heavily invested in! We saw how the NAACP after taking $$$ from the BIG Processed & Fast Food BIZ, came out against Cali's GMO food labeling law. Ditto re: the NAACP vs net neutrality.

PS: Why do the HBCU's have to beg the likes of the Koch Bro's for so-called 'donations' anyway? Where's Oprah, Bob & Magic Johnson, MJ, Mr Cosby Kids, Jr Bridgeman, Jay Z & Beyoncee', Denzel, etc...??? Have they all gone MIA / AWOL on this issue??? 

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