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Papa John's CEO, Koch Foundation Expand Free Enterprise Program at UK

Gatton College of Business and Economics
Gatton College of Business and Economics

The foundations of pizza magnate John Schnatter and businessman Charles Koch have donated a combined $12 million to create a "free enterprise" teaching institute at the University of Kentucky, the school announced Tuesday.

The donation, one of the largest in UK history, is double what the two groups made earlier this year to set up a similar free-market program at the University of Louisville.

At UK, the grant will establish a "John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise" and expand the work of a current capitalism program underwritten by BB&T bank, according to a university news release. About $10 million will go to the institute. The remaining $2 million gives Schnatter naming rights to an atrium in the new business school building.

The university's board of trustees approved the donation Tuesday. The agreements had not yet been signed and finalized as of Tuesday afternoon, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said.

"The free-enterprise system is the greatest mechanism mankind has ever created to eliminate poverty, enhance prosperity, and enable the pursuit of happiness," Schnatter said in a statement released by the school.

"Entrepreneurship is critical to unlocking the power of the free market system. We’re proud to support this effort to educate the next generation about free market principles and equip aspiring entrepreneurs with the know-how to launch successful businesses."

Koch-funded enterprise centers at other public universities have sparked controversy and drawn criticism from students and faculty who claim the schools have ceded academic control to donors.

Blanton said in an email that the school "maintains autonomy over hiring and curriculum."

The Koch foundation previously made other, smaller donations to UK. Meanwhile, Schnatter, CEO of Papa John's International, previously donated to UK's athletic program and children's hospital, according to Blanton.

As WFPL's Kentucky Center for Investigative Reportingfirst reported last year,the Schnatter and Koch foundations issued a $6.3 million, seven-year grant to U of L. The donation funds two tenure-track professorships, two visiting professors, center staff and expenses, up to five research grants, up to four doctoral fellowships, and classes, seminars and annual lectures.

The center's aim is to "engage in teaching and research that explores the role of free enterprise and entrepreneurship in advancing society," according to the school.

Among the contract's stipulations, the university and its foundation agree to keep details of the agreement confidential, and not release information without approval of the donors, except in instances required by law.

Schnatter, of Anchorage, has donated more than $20 million to U of L's athletic program. Billionaire businessmen from Kansas, the Koch brothers are well-known philanthropists who champion conservative causes and politicians who favor less government regulation. The Charles Koch Foundation says it has made charitable donations to more than 300 universities across the country.

Managing Editor Brendan McCarthy can be reached at bmccarthy@kycir.org or (502) 814.6541.

Disclosure: In October 2014, the University of Louisville, which for years has donated to Louisville Public Media, earmarked $10,000 to KyCIR as part of a larger LPM donation.

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