The Ball State University Board of Trustees says the school will not remove 1983 graduate and Papa John’s International Inc. (Nasdaq: PZZA) founder John Schnatter’s name from an on-campus institute, while the Purdue University Board of Trustees says it will revert to the previous name of its economics center. In a letter addressing the Ball State community, Chair Rick Hall says comments Schnatter made in private to a public relations firm that included a racially-insensitive term were not used "in a derogatory manner seeking to demean any individuals or groups; rather it was used as an example of improper conduct." Purdue commented on its decision, saying "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."

In April, Purdue University announced an $8 million gift from the John H. Schnatter Family Foundation that involved renaming the Research Center in Economics after Schnatter.

The Ball State letter goes on to say the board found it appropriate to review the context of the remarks that were "insensitive and painful to others." However, the letter continued, "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."

When Schnatter’s comments became public through media reports, he quickly issued a statement owning up to the language, apologizing, denouncing racism and resigning from his position as chairman of the company he started shortly after college graduation.

Schnatter delivered the Spring Commencement Address at his alma mater in 2015. In 2016, he partnered with the Koch Foundation on a $3.25 million grant for the Ball State institute that would bear Schnatter’s name.

The letter, dated August 3, 2018, reads:

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.

Sincerely,

Rick Hall

Purdue’s explanation says:

The Purdue Board of Trustees has decided that the name of the university’s economics center, named in April 2018 the John H. Schnatter Center for Economic Research at Purdue, should revert to the Purdue University Research Center in Economics. Purdue will offer to return the funds associated with the naming.

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. A copy of previous statements on that topic is attached by way of reaffirmation.

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