Education

Coal executive’s donation helps UK plug hole left after it cut ties with pizza magnate

Inside the art-filled UK Gatton College of Business

The new University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business and Economics on the UK campus features multiple pieces of art. All of the art work in the building was purchased through an endowment established using donations from private donors.
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The new University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business and Economics on the UK campus features multiple pieces of art. All of the art work in the building was purchased through an endowment established using donations from private donors.

The University of Kentucky will receive a $3 million donation from a politically connected coal executive that will help plug a hole that opened when it returned a multimillion-dollar donation from a polarizing pizza magnate.

The donation will help support a controversial free-enterprise institute supported by a foundation funded by the Koch family, known for its libertarian political stances.

The new donation from coal executive Joseph Craft will be reviewed at the next UK board of trustees meeting this week.

Craft is a long-time financial supporter of the University’s athletics department.

On Friday, the UK board of trustees will vote to accept a $3 million donation from the Joseph W. Craft III Foundation “to support the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise in the Gatton College of Business and Economics,” according to the board’s agenda documents.

The Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise aims to “generate intellectually rigorous research and an open dialogue to discover and understand how free enterprise affects peoples’ lives,” according to the center’s website.

In 2015, The Charles Koch Foundation donated $4 million to the Institute.

“Free enterprise research” is a common theme among college programs funded by the Koch family. Concerns have arisen about strings attached to some of these programs, most notably, that curriculum advances libertarian ideologies among its students.

The Institute’s original proposal asserted that UK students would be informed of how free enterprise “promotes the well-being of society.” It also included a clause that allowed the Koch Foundation to withdraw funding with 30 days notice.

During the proposal stage, the John H. Schnatter Family Foundation also pledged $6 million to the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise. Last year, part of that funding fell through as the University cut all ties with Schnatter, Papa John’s founder, following his admission that he had made “inappropriate and hurtful” remarks on the job.

In July 2018, Schnatter told Forbes he had used the N-word while on a training conference call. Shortly after, Schnatter resigned from the University of Louisville’s board of trustees

The incident came at a time when Schnatter was publicly criticized for his stance on race-related issues. In 2017, Schnatter voiced disapproval of the NFL’s “poor leadership” in dealing with protesting players.

Initial funding for the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise was incremental, with overall donations to reach $10 million by 2020. Following the university’s decision to sever ties with Schnatter, however, around half a million dollars in his to-date donations were returned, according to UK spokesman Jay Blanton. (About $1.05 million from Schnatter had already been spent on the institute.)

Previous donations from Craft have contributed to new or revamped athletics facilities, such as the Joe Craft Football Training Facility and the Wildcat Coal Lodge, a residence hall for UK men’s basketball team members. The residence hall, previously known as simply the Wildcat Lodge, was renamed following Craft’s $7 million donation in 2009.

Craft is the owner of Alliance Resource Partners, a coal production company based in Tulsa, Okla. Through Alliance, Craft has contributed to Koch-supported causes, for which he has received thanks from Charles Koch. Craft has also been prominent in state and national Republican party politics.

Blanton said the donation from the Craft Foundation was unrelated to the Koch Foundation’s earlier pledge.

Craft’s donation would fund faculty positions, doctoral fellowships and a research associate position within the Institute, “among other things,” according to Blanton.

While the UK board of trustees votes on the donation this week, Joseph Craft’s wife Kelly Craft faced confirmation hearings in Washington, D.C. Kelly Craft is President Trump’s nominee for US ambassador to the United Nations.

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