Ch. 5: The Battle for the Campus

Part 3: Koch’s Self-directed Donations to Historically Black Colleges and Universities

  1. United Negro College Fund

    1. Donor Influence over Koch Scholars

    2. Restricted majors align with Koch's existing programs

    3. Donor Influence over Curriculum

  2. Thurgood Marshall College Fund

    1. Koch Control over the Center for Advancing Opportunity

    2. CAO: Front for the American Enterprise Institute and School Choice

    3. TMCF's Koch Centers


Since 2014, Koch Industries has created high-profile partnerships with organizations dedicated to supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): including $25 million to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), and [$25.6 million] the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF).

Rather than providing funding for these organizations to use freely, Koch’s programs consist of stand-alone programs where there is clear evidence of donor influence, constrained academic programs, and involvement in the overtly political activities of the Koch network, most notably their School Choice efforts, including extensive reliance on,and hiring from, the American Enterprise Institute (which houses white nationalist Charles Murray).

1. United Negro College Fund

The United Negro College Fund’s Koch Scholars program was announced in 2014, to consist of:

scholarships at the undergraduate and graduate levels . . . focused on how entrepreneurship, economics, and innovation contribute to well-being for individuals, communities, and society.

The UNCF/Koch scholars page has indicated the development of a graduate and post doctoral programs.

a. Donor influence over Koch Scholars Program

Koch’s academic programs have consistently allowed them control over hiring. The UNCF/Koch program is not operated by UNCF staff, but by new people hired with UNCF using Koch’s money. In fact, the program is so separate that when students apply, they can “[o]pt out of having your scholarship information shared with UNCF personnel for contact purposes.”

Also, similar to what we have seen on campuses, Koch creates an advisory board where they have veto power over the selection of students who receive their scholarships and fellowships. UNCF’s website describes “an advisory board consisting of two UNCF representatives, two Koch representatives, and one faculty member from an existing school will be created to review scholarship applications and select recipients.” We expect the “faculty member from an existing school” refers to an existing Koch funded program (see covert constraints below), who may well be contractually bound to help carry out Koch’s objectives. Such a situation would give Koch a 3-2 veto power on the advisory board.

This board screens students with questions, including how they “define individual, societal, and community well-being.”

UnKoch My Campus has documented how the Koch foundation’s agreements leverage control over hiring, including the selection of fellowship and scholarship recipients, as well as approval power over dissertation topics, and broad authority to withdraw funding from fellows based on compliance with Koch’s ideological statement of purpose. See Chapter 4 in our 2017 case study for more information.

B. Restricted majors align with existing Koch programs

UNCF Koch Scholars program is advertised as available to students majoring in a collection of seven “eligible majors,” namely “Accounting, Business, Economics, Engineering, History, Philosophy, Political Science.”

Yet, a Koch Scholars document suggests that the “eligible fields of study” are not free for students to choose, listing further restrictions on the seven fields depending on which university the student is attending. the student was attending. The UNCF document does not clarify what these restrictions pertain to, i.e. whether they refer to constraints on students’ choice of majors, or perhaps to the fields of UNCF mentors.

Of the one-hundred and forty-three UNCF “eligible campuses,” one-hundred campuses (70%) list restrictions on the “fields of study” that Koch scholars are allowed to select. Eighty-one eligible campuses (56%) restrict students to a single field.

Of the 81 campuses (56%) restricting students to a single field, sixty of are restricted to “economics.”

Of the one hundred campuses where UNCF/Koch “fields of study” are constrained, all one-hundred of them are currently receiving funding from the Koch foundation. Of the forty-three campuses (30%) where students are free to choose from “all eligible disciplines,” only nine of them have received funding from the Charles Koch Foundation.

It can be seen easily that restrictions to not reflect availability of majors at the institutions, as several schools restricted to “economics” as the only eligible field, can be seen to offer all six of the rest of the publicly advertised majors (including George Mason University, Florida State University, and Chapman University).

One reason to think the restrictions are on the mentors rather than the student majors is a recent  press release announcing three UNCF Koch scholars at the University of New Orleans. While the UNCF document shows UNO’s restricts “fields of study” to a single field, philosophy, none of the students are philosophy majors. However, their mentor Chris Surprenant runs the Koch-funded Tocqueville Program in UNO’s philosophy department.

As the UNCF would have no motivation to restrict student scholarships, it appears that the Koch foundation is overwhelmingly using UNCF to direct money back to their own free-market programs. See this table of Koch funded campuses and UNCF Campus Restrictions.

C. Koch Influence Over UNCF Curriculum

In a 2015 CKF annual report, the UNCF Koch Scholars pursue the:

study of how Principled Entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic thinking contribute to well-being and how to apply these concepts in their lives.

Principled Entrepreneurship™

Though it was not part of the originally announced programming, UNCF’s Koch Scholars is now anchored in the study of “Principled Entrepreneurship”:

“Our shared vision was then and remains today to support students and faculty in their exploration of how Principled Entrepreneurship, the economic way of thinking and innovation improve well-being for individuals, communities and society,” said Meredith Olson, vice president of public affairs for Koch Industries.

While it is not made clear, the phrase Principled Entrepreneurship™ is a registered trademark of Koch Industries. It is a part of Charles Koch’s proprietary philosophy that guides Koch Industries, Market Based Management®.

The “guiding principles” of the Charles Koch Foundation are based in MBM:

Value Creation: Contribute to societal well-being by advancing the ideas, values, policies, and practices of free societies. Understand, develop, and apply Market-Based Management to achieve superior results by making better decisions, eliminating waste, optimizing, and innovating.

Principled Entrepreneurship™: Apply the judgment, responsibility, initiative, economic and critical thinking skills, and sense of urgency necessary to generate the greatest contribution, consistent with the organization’s risk philosophy.


The same month that UNCF announced their $25 million partnership with Koch Industries and the Koch foundation.  UNCF President Michael Lomax presented at a 2014 donor summit where he mocked critics of his partnership with Koch as accusing them of “mind control.” Richard Fink, the author of “integrated strategy” was also on this panel.

On the very next panel, “Leveraging Science and Universities,” the Koch foundation’s Kevin Gentry described the covert political intentions of Koch’s programs (see above). Also on this panel, a Koch funded professor at Wake Forest University, James Otteson, explained to political donors how reframing “capitalism” as “well-being” is a “game changer.” He then told an anecdote about using this language to mislead a “liberal” colleague (more on Otteson above).

2. Thurgood Marshall College Fund

A. Koch Control over the Center for Advancing Opportunity

Koch’s $25.6 million was not given to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. It was used to create a new entity, the Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO). The CAO is being staffed by new hires.

The CAO is “being established in Washington, D.C., to act as a coordinating body and grant administrator” (Inside Higher Ed). The Undefeated reported that $6.6 million will be used for overhead, including salaries for the main center in Washington and the campus centers, travel expenses, annual conventions and summits and miscellaneous costs.”

Koch’s contracts with universities around the country allow the Koch foundation veto power over the use of their funds. Though no agreement has been produced between TMCF and Koch, we can make the informed assumption that Koch has similar control over the CAO hiring. If we are mistaken, we encourage the Koch foundation or TMCF to release their contract and we’ll happily retract our assertion.

The CAO will establish Koch centers at three HBCUs who each stand to receive $3 million over five years. TMCF’s CEO Johnny Taylor said of the Koch centers at HBCUs, “we are going to roll out as many of these as the community is willing to accept” (video at 1:45).

The CAO will also administer $5 million in Koch undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships in certain majors.  

B. A Front for the American Enterprise Institute and School Choice

The recently announced director of the TMCF/Koch Center for Advancing Opportunity is Gerard Robinson, an “education scholar and former school official,” who also happens to be a long time American Enterprise Institute charter school advocate.

A central part of Koch’s partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund is to support research in “education reform.” Just judging by their early programming, it appears that the CAO will be mirroring (and subsidizing) AEI’s charter school agenda and activities.

The first event held by the Center for Advancing Opportunity was an invitation-only discussion of Brown v. Board of Education (see Program Here). Entitled “A Promise Fulfilled? An Examination of Brown v. Board of Education on its 63rd Anniversary,” an examination of the panelists reveals a clear theme, with all but one panelist having clear ties to charter schools or “school choice” advocacy groups.

The Center for Advancing Opportunity panel has three panelists from EdChoice, a leading charter school advocacy group, and just two from HBCU advocacy organizations. TMCF and United Negro College Fund each have a single representative.

At the recent CAO event, one panel was moderated by Robert Enlow, CEO of EdChoice, with panelist Greg Forester, an EdChoice Friedman Fellow.

Other panelists included Virginia Walden Ford, who is an EdChoice board member(though it is not disclosed in the program). Ford served and continues to serve on the Board of Directors of other “school choice” organizations like the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and Friends of Choice in Urban Schools. She is also the former Executive Director of DC Parents for School Choice.

The keynote speaker, Steve Perry, was the CEO of a national chain of charter schools, or charter management organization, Capital Preparatory. Perry was principal and founder of Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford CT, but when teachers stood in opposition to being integrated into the chain, Perry retaliated, calling teachers unions “roaches,” and making apparently violent remarks on Twitter, saying “All this did was piss me off. It's so on. Strap up, there will be head injuries.” He later stepped down as principal of the of the Capital Preparatory in Hartford to manage the growing Capital Prep chain. In 2016 he opened a school in Harlem with Sean "Diddy" Combs.

Another panelist, and now CAO director, Gerard Robinson, was a resident fellow at the American Enterprise, and a member of Donald Trump’s education transition team, whose “all hands on deck” education proposal encouraged increased involvement by “corporate and non-profit” entities, and who stated plainly that “it takes faith, families, and free market values to educate students so they can be assets to our nation.”

This format, and the event’s conclusions, appear to be identical to AEI’s Brown v. Board event three years prior, entitled “With all deliberate speed: Brown v. Board of Education II, 60 years later,” moderated by Gerard Robinson. The panels were stacked with charter school leaders and advocates, including several from EdChoice. The main takeaway was “how school choice and parental empowerment can lead to greater educational opportunities” post Brown v. Board of Education.

At this event, Robinson asks about critics who point out the origins of school choice, namely the southern “segregation academies” created through “Freedom of Choice.” He asks the EdChoice panelist, Leslie Hiner, whether critics are right or wrong that modern school choice furthers the original intent of school choice and vouchers (or “tuition scholarships,” as they were called at the time).

The EdChoice panelist proceeds to claim that it wasn’t local citizens choosing to maintain segregation through private schools, but that the state forced segregation academies through the freedom of choice provisions:

When you ask this question about school choice, and what happened with the “freedom of choice,” and the segregation academies before, keep in mind, the one thing that Brown [v. Board] did well was that it ended state mandated segregation. So when people today talk about the segregation academies of the past, keep in mind those weren’t academies that parents got together, created their own schools and voluntarily decided yea this is what we want to do. That’s not what happened. This was state created, state ordered, state directed funding, and if you had a white child, you would send your child to these academies that were allegedly private, but there was really nothing private about them. This was the action, the very direct action of the state to try to stop the implementation of Brown. . . The power, the real power, If you’re a parent, you want the option to send your child to a different school, or  (Video at 1:02:30)

Of course, this is a complete misrepresentation, neglecting the fact that “freedom to choose” then accompanied by large parts of the pro-segregationist South to proceed to choose.

C. TMCF’s First Koch Center

The first center created by Koch’s Center for Advancing Opportunity was announced in September 2017, $3 million to  Winston-Salem State University for the Center for Economic Mobility.

The center will be run by Dr. Craig Richardson, in a department where Koch’s donor network has already paid to reshape the curriculum. Richardson’s extracurricular interests are also aligned with the Koch Network, contributing author to American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and the journal of the Association of Private Enterprise Education.

In 2008, the same year he became department chair, Richardson became the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Economics and began accepting funds from the Charles Koch Foundation and BB&T which allowed donor funded curricular change.

Richardson’s CV states that starting in 2010, he:

Co-led curriculum initiative to substantially revamp Economics Major, adding three tracks of study including International Economics, Money and Banking and General Economics. Majors have more than doubled since then. (2010-13)

Also beginning in 2010, he lists:

Course development in global economic development and future international travel program development. $8,500 grant award. Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation (2010-2011 academic year). . . to develop undergraduate and graduate course on Global Economic Development as well as overseas programs..

Between 2010 and 2015, the Charles Koch Foundation paid Richardson $45,700 for annual travel, including ”undergraduate fellowship awards, faculty travel, and guest lectures while studying at Cape Coast University, Ghana” in 2011,  and “MBA student fellowship awards for WSSU Summer Abroad course in Shanghai, through ECO 6350 course” in 2012.

Among WSSU course listings one sees the trademark of donor influence, a requirement of Koch’s partner donor BB&T, a course entitled “Moral/Ethical Foundations of Capitalism” (ECO 6340):

Students will be introduced to the resource allocation process and its impact on economic growth. Ethical questions as to what is an “equitable distribution” versus what is an “efficient economic system” are examined in detail. Students will be exposed to both critics and defenders of capitalism. Various ethical perspectives will be used to evaluate whether capitalism is moral.