Ball State changes mind about maintaining ties to Papa John’s founder

  • Comments
  • Print

Ball State University’s board of trustees has changed its mind about maintaining the name of the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise.

The board voted 8-1 Thursday to remove Schnatter’s name from the institute, almost two weeks after announcing it planned to maintain ties with the controversial founder of the Papa John’s pizza chain.

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 company’s 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's board of trustees voted Aug. 3 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.

But Ball State initially decided not to make changes. 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 statement about the latest decision, board chairman and Barnes & Thornburg LLP partner Rick Hall, said it would be almost impossible to keep the name in the current political climate.

The university did not say whether it planned to return the funding to Schnatter.

Ball State said it received an overwhelming response to its initial decision, both positive and negative. Thousands of people signed a petition urging university officials to reverse their decision.

The entire statement about the latest decision, signed by Hall, follows:

"The Board of Trustees strongly condemns racism, both implicit and explicit. Our condemnation extends to include John Schnatter’s comments that are the subject of controversy and have no place in our society.

The Board had hoped that the situation would provide a learning opportunity regarding race relations and critical thinking. We respect and appreciate that John desired to engage with our students and campus community and otherwise continue to be supportive of Ball State. From the Board’s perspective, our University was presented with a chance to have healthy and open conversation that could lead to better understanding of issues facing our society.

Notwithstanding the Board’s strong belief in the power of conversation, President [Geoffrey] Mearns has advised us that such discussions with John and other good faith gestures would not be well received or effective, as long as his name remains on the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise.

Unfortunately, the response from some on campus and the current political climate in our nation makes the meaningful progress we desire very challenging. At the same time, the Board does not wish to risk that others will have a false impression that Ball State is not fully committed to a welcoming and inclusive campus for all.

Accordingly, the Board voted today to remove John Schnatter’s name from the Institute.

While the office suite signage in one of our buildings has changed, the troubling issues facing our nation still exist. The Board encourages the Ball State community to engage in constructive dialogue as we collectively work towards solutions."

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.