Ball State sees large response after Papa John’s decision

More than 500 people have emailed Ball State University about its decision to support Papa John's founder John Schnatter amid controversy over his use of a racial slur.

Trustees decided Friday to support the pizza-chain founder, who graduated from the university in 1983. Since then, hundreds of people have emailed the university, taken to social media or signed a petition regarding the decision, The Star Press reported.

In addition to the more than 500 emails, hundreds have responded via social media. More than 2,000 people have signed a petition urging university officials to reverse their decision.

The university is in the process of reviewing the messages, which have included both positive and negative reactions, university spokeswoman Kathy Wolf said. Wolf said university officials condemn racism and are committed to diversity and inclusion.

Schnatter resigned as chairman of the Kentucky-based pizza chain after Forbes reported last month that he used a racial slur during a media training conference call. He has apologized for using the word, but said it was taken out of context.

The online petition is asking trustees to reverse their decision and remove Schnatter's name from the university's John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise. Ball State started the institute in 2016, after Schnatter and the Charles Koch Foundation donated $3.25 million.

Schnatter "values his relationship with his alma mater" and "looks forward to continuing the tremendous work being done by the institute," said Aaron Thompson, chief financial officer at the John H. Schnatter Family Foundation.

On Monday morning, Ball State President Geoffrey S. Mearns penned a "Dear Colleagues and Friends" email, the subject of which was, "Our Enduring Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion."

Mearns noted that, in a speech to faculty and staff a year ago at this time, he condemned the "racial hatred and bald-faced bigotry" that instigated the fatal protest in Charlottesville, where Mearns was born and raised.

The president also wrote in the message that last fall Ball State enrolled the most racially diverse freshman class in school history; that in May the trustees approved his recommendation to invest $4 million to build a new multicultural center in the heart of campus; and that the trustees last week endorsed a policy de-emphasizing college entrance exams, to make admission more accessible to first-generation and minority students.

Some on social media were not impressed: "Don't redirect our attention. Fix THIS issue, and denounce Schnatter;" "You're batting 0 for 2 here, Ball State and President Mearns. Purdue took the appropriate action; you took the money and ran;" "We are working so hard towards inclusion and diversity, that is why we are proud to announce the David Duke Multicultural Center."

Another called Mearns a "puppet" of the trustees. And another mocked the university's new slogan, "We Fly," saying, "We Fly the Confederate Flag."

Earlier this month, Purdue University officials decided to drop Schnatter's name from a business school program and offered to return his $8 million donation.

Many other institutions have cut ties with Papa John's. The University of Louisville removed the Papa John's name from its football stadium and Schnatter's name from its business college's Center for Free Enterprise. The University of Utah decided to close the location in the campus food court.

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