The Ford Foundation decided to eliminate one of its best programs. This program has encouraged some of our most outstanding scholars of color. Who made this decision and why?

A millionaire foundation president constantly surrounded by controversy and verbal missteps (Google Darren Walker), a former University president who resigned, and the “cold” wealthy Apple tech heir just killed the most successful philanthropic diversity effort ever. Darren Walker, Francisco G. Cigarroa, and Laurene Powell Jobs are sunsetting the Ford Fellowship. For decades, this program has been addressing educator diversity in higher education and enhancing the contributions of faculty of color. Despite its unrivaled accomplishments— in an instant— one of the most successful diversity programs of all time— 6,102 fellows since the inception of the program in 1967— is now in the dustbin of history.


Educator diversity is one of the biggest challenges facing education today. It is an acute issue as students of color rarely encounter teachers of color in K-12 and then have the same experience in higher education. The last decade of research has shown that higher education hasn’t moved the needle and improved diversity in an appreciable way— but the Ford Fellowships clearly have. Mary Beth Gasman, a Professor at Rutgers University, said in the Washington Post that higher education has not solved this problem because colleges and universities “don’t want” faculty of color and now neither does the Ford Foundation.


In an email message to Ford Fellows, Darren Walker, Francisco G. Cigarroa, and Laurene Powell Jobs and the Ford Foundation board offered a couple of flawed reasons for killing the prestigious and impactful program. They argued that “winding down” the Ford Fellowships is acceptable because the Gates and Lumina foundations participate in higher education philanthropy. Leaving to the side the failures that the Gates Foundation has wrought on K-12 and Higher Education, it’s a straw man argument because unfortunately neither of these— nor any other foundation— are funding educator diversity in higher education in “meaningful and inspiring ways” as the Ford Foundation fellowships have done.


Walker, Cigarroa, and Jobs and the Ford Foundation board also engage a sleight of hand by mentioning that they will refocus on “social and racial justice.” What they neglect to mention is that the Ford Fellowship have supported the intellectual foundation of grassroots social and racial justice activism and movements. For example, while the program has encompassed many intellectual disciplines, this award has identified and supported some of the leading educational scholars and movement influencers such as Travis Bristol (Educator Diversity), Keffrelyn Brown (Culturally Relevant Pedagogy), Julian Vasquez Heilig (Community-Based Education Reform), Delores Delgado Bernal (Latinx students and schools), Daniel Solorzano (Critical Race Theory), Angela Valenzuela (Ethnic Studies), Chezare Walker (Black Youth and schools), Bryan Brayboy (Indigenous students and schools) and many more. I can only imagine how slighted the scholars of color supported by this fellowship may feel by this gross oversight of their widespread impact on social and racial justice. What Walker, Cigarroa, and Jobs and the Ford Foundation board don’t realize is that the fellowships are funding social and racial justice intellectual capital across the nation and globe. If they would have asked the Ford Fellows, they may have realized this. Furthermore, to set up a competitive and false dichotomy between funding Ford Fellowships and racial justice and movement building is insulting and demeaning for Ford Fellows and communities of color.


Killing the Ford Fellowships is not actually a “judgement call” as they say in their closing statement, but rather severe ignorance of the incredibly rich history of the Ford Fellowship. The closing of the Ford Fellowships just compounds Darren Walker’s ongoing errors, controversies, and missteps as a leader. Maybe for Darren Walker this “judgement call” is payback as the Ford Fellows created a movement and publicly protested his extensive support of prisons.


So, what is to be done? How do we hold the board members of the Ford Foundation representing Xerox, Ford, Davidson Kempner, Aluko & Oyebode, Cisco Systems, Sigma Impact, Mastercard and others accountable? Do you know how to reach out to them? Should Ford Fellows boycott the proposed 2023 conference? If Walker, Cigarroa, and Jobs and the Ford Foundation board were truly interested in movement building, the fellowship could have been reworked to encourage scholars to apply who are leaders and were identified as future leaders in social and racial justice. This new approach would add to the heritage of the Ford Fellowships and honor the legacy of leadership whose shoulders Walker, Cigarroa and Jobs and the Ford Foundation board stood on— but have now fallen off. By simply killing the Ford Fellowships, Darren Walker, Francisco G. Cigarroa, and Laurene Powell Jobs and the Ford Foundation board are destroying the intellectual foundation of social and racial justice movements and killing philanthropy’s most successful diversity program of all time. Shame on them.