- The University of Louisville announced Friday its intent to remove the Papa John's name from its football stadium, reverting back to simply Cardinal Stadium in the wake of a scandal involving the pizza company's founder John Schnatter.
- Schnatter, who was also chairman of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees, resigned from the board chairman position as well as his position as chairman of Papa John's amid controversy surrounding his use of racial slurs on a May conference call.
- According to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, Schnatter and Papa John's have donated roughly $20 million in gifts to the institution, including a formal $5 million naming rights deal for the stadium, which was inked in the late 1990s before stadium naming rights became popular. The center also said that as of May 2017, Schnatter personally spent $12.5 million for 42 years of name recognition, or about $300,000 a year.
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting noted the "outsized influence" Schnatter had on the University of Louisville's budgeting process — a conflict that can be difficult to navigate when the board chair is also one of your biggest donors. But the controversy is part of a larger trend of pressure surrounding institutions accepting money from problematic donors.
So far, in the case of the University of Louisville and Schnatter, there have not been talks about returning the money donated, but in other cases, institutions have not only removed names from buildings and other structures on campus, but also have returned the monies associated with those naming rights in efforts to completely sever ties with donors, whether those donors were long-dead Confederate generals or still-living fallen celebrities. And an increasingly astute group of students continues to demand accountability and answers from university leaders about where operational money is coming from and how much control donors have over matters like curriculum and policy on campus.
All the while, state and federal support for higher education is decreasing, gifts to individual institutions from corporations and foundations levels off as most prefer to donate to consortia or conglomerates where they feel they can get a bigger bang for their buck, and conversations about affordability rage on.
In many instances, institution leaders know they can't afford to turn away major gifts, and most don't have the human resources to vet every would-be donor's past, even if they could afford to be selective. But what most can afford is a more thoughtful approach and sensitivity to the campus environment.
Leaders who spend time out on campus — many of those who do say they have to schedule actual time on their calendars to have lunch in the cafeteria or walk around, otherwise the whole day gets away from them — are more connected to what students think and need and can better anticipate potentially heated situations. They also generally have more trust from the campus community.
Spending more time around campus allows leaders to communicate proactively with stakeholders and consider and prepare an offensive, rather than a defensive, approach to crises that arises. And though students may still protest — after all, protesting students is a sign the administration and faculty members are doing a good job of producing thoughtful and engaged future graduates — engaged college leaders will not be caught off guard, or worse ousted, because of the lack of an appropriate response.