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UK to strip all references to Papa John’s founder from campus after racist remark

Pizza magnate John Schnatter gave $2 million to the UK Gatton College of Business to name the atrium after him. The $65 million renovation opened in 2016.
Pizza magnate John Schnatter gave $2 million to the UK Gatton College of Business to name the atrium after him. The $65 million renovation opened in 2016. CHARLES BERTRAM

The University of Kentucky will remove pizza magnate John Schnatter’s name from a free enterprise institute and the business school’s main atrium, following the University of Louisville’s lead in disavowing Schnatter after he admitted using a racial epithet in a conference call.

“We appreciate Mr. Schnatter’s understanding that his unacceptable language is contrary to the values of the University of Kentucky,” UK President Eli Capilouto said in a statement Friday afternoon. “We believe in his sincerity to try to make amends. But attempting to continue any financial relationship with Mr. Schnatter would be a painful and unnecessary barrier to our efforts of building a community where everyone is welcome and belongs.”

Schnatter has pledged $8 million to the UK Gatton School of Business. Under the donor contract, that money was being paid incrementally through 2020. UK spokesman Jay Blanton said the school would not take any further donations, and will work with the Schnatter Family Foundation about what to do with donations that have already been made.

Schnatter, who lives outside Louisville in Anchorage, has not had as big a profile at UK as at UofL, but his name still emblazons the new atrium of the $65 million renovation of the Gatton College and the John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise, which he set up in conjunction with the Charles Koch Foundation in 2015.

Now all references to Schnatter at the College will be removed, although the Institute will continue. Schnatter donated $6 million from his family foundation to create the institute, and another $2 million for the naming rights to the atrium. The Koch Foundation gave $4 million to the institute.

The Schnatter Family Foundation released a statement with UK:

“Our focus was, and remains to this day, the students, who benefit from understanding the role free markets play in the economy and society. Based on recent events, the University feels that Mr. Schnatter’s involvement with this program could be a distraction to students and scholars. With that in mind, we have mutually agreed to end our partnership with the University.”

Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s Pizza and a long-time UofL donor, resigned from the school’s Board of Trustees on Wednesday. By Friday, UofL President Neeli Bendapudi announced that Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium would henceforth be known as Cardinal Stadium and his name would be removed from the John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise.

UofL spokesman John Karman said financial considerations, such as returning Schnatter’s donations, have not yet been discussed.

Shortly after the UofL announcement on Friday, numerous people on Twitter encouraged UK to follow suit, including Secretary of State and potential gubernatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who tweeted from her personal and campaign account: “@uofl & others have rightly acted swiftly to disassociate from John Schnatter after his egregious comments. @universityofky should do the same. Racist rhetoric should not be tolerated & has no place in our society or government.”

State Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, who represents UK, also called for the state’s flagship school “to dissolve any association” between UK and Schnatter.

Schnatter has stepped away from the business he founded, Papa John’s Pizza, which still has many connections at UK through JMI, the media rights contractor for UK. Papa John’s is the officials pizza of UK Athletics, they can use UK’s logo on pizza boxes and they can advertise in a “limited way” on campus, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton.

Papa John’s also a contract with UK’s private dining partner, Aramark, to operate a small franchise on campus at The 90 dining hall.

Schnatter apologized for the language, which occurred during a public relations training excercise. On Friday, he told radio host Terry Meiners that he was “distraught” over the controversy.

Blanton said that Capilouto spent the past two days reviewing the contracts and made his decision in consultation with Board of Trustees Chairman Britt Brockman,”who was strongly supportive of the move today.”