UPDATE: Ball State to maintain ties to Papa John’s founder; Purdue won’t

Ball State University does not plan to change the name of the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise, unlike several other colleges that have distanced themselves from the controversial Papa John’s Pizza chain founder, BSU's board of trustees said Friday.

Purdue, however, is following the lead of several other schools that are dropping their ties to Schnatter over a racial slur he made earlier this year. The university's board of trustees voted Friday morning to offer to return an $8 million donation from the pizza-chain mogul and change the name of the John H. Schnatter Center for Economic Research to its former name, the Purdue University Research Center in Economics.

Schnatter, a 1983 Ball State graduate, resigned as chairman of Louisville-based Papa John’s International last month after he came under fire for using the n-word in a call during a media training exercise with an advertising agency.

After Schnatter publicly apologized for using the n-word and left the board July 11, Papa John's officials quickly began cutting ties with their former CEO by evicting him from its corporate headquarters and removing his image from all marketing materials.   

Several universities that had received major donations from Schnatter rapidly began taking his name off of buildings and schools, including the University of Kentucky, Morehouse College and the University of Louisville, which renamed Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium to simply Cardinal Stadium. NFL teams also began separating themselves from Papa John's, one of the league's biggest sponsors.

Purdue University said earlier this month that it would assess whether to change the name of the John H. Schnatter Center for Economic Research at Purdue, which was renamed this year after Schnatter gave the university $8 million.

On Friday, it issued its decision to change the name: "The board believes this action is necessary to avoid distraction from the center’s work, counterproductive division on the campus, and any inference of any deviation from the university’s often stated stance on tolerance and racial relations," it said in writing.

Schnatter and the Charles Koch Foundation awarded a $3.25 million grant to Ball State in 2016 to fund the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise.

In a written explanation released Friday morning, the Ball State board of trustees said it reviewed the situation and decided to “continue our support” for the institute’s name. The trustees called the language used by Schnatter "insensitive and painful," but considered the context in which the remark was made and said "in our experience with John, he has never expressed racist views."

The entire statement, signed by board chairman and Barnes & Thornburg LLP partner Rick Hall, follows:

"To the Ball State Community:

Ball State alumnus, John Schnatter, has been the subject of media reports regarding his comments in a private meeting in May. As a result, the Board of Trustees has been asked whether his name will be removed from the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise.

Higher education plays a unique role in the support of free speech and the exchange of ideas that lead to better understanding. In that pursuit, it does not mandate perfection. The language used by John was insensitive and painful to others, making a review of context appropriate.

To such end, we have the following understanding of John’s comments. They were made in a private meeting with consultants, from which he was seeking advice as to how to communicate in a way that would be less offensive to others. In the course of the conversation, he recited his understanding of another’s use of the “N word”. He did so not in a derogatory manner seeking to demean any individuals or groups; rather it was used as an example of improper conduct.

John has acknowledged, notwithstanding his intentions, that his use of the word was inappropriate. His response was to promptly issue an apology and unequivocally denounce racism. He has reaffirmed those views to us personally, and such sentiment is consistent with Ball State’s values.

In our experience with John, he has never expressed racist views. He has demonstrated himself to be an individual who is very appreciative of his fortunate situation and cares deeply about creating an environment in which all enterprising individuals have the opportunity to succeed.  With such perspective, John has generously shared his blessings through his contributions to universities and other philanthropic activities.

Based on our current understanding of what transpired, John’s response to the current situation, and our experience with him, the Board will continue our support of the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise.

While we recognize that some will disagree with our position on this particular matter, we hope all will share in the Board’s unwavering commitment to a diverse and welcoming campus. Through our continued work together, Ball State can advance a sense of community that is so essential to the creation of a stronger Indiana and a healthier society."

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