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University of Louisville Releases Details on Major Gift From Papa John’s CEO, Koch Foundation

university of louisville
Eleanor Hasken

John Schnatter’s long-running, multi-generational ties to the University of Louisville just grew $4.64 million deeper.

In a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the university’s College of Business, President James Ramsey confirmed a $6.3 million, seven-year grant that will fund the establishment, staffing and operation of the new John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise. Scheduled to open in the fall, the center will “engage in teaching and research that explores the role of free enterprise and entrepreneurship in advancing society.”

The source of Schnatter’s wealth, the publicly owned Papa John’s International pizza chain, is already emblazoned across the UofL campus. Through gifts exceeding $20 million, the company and John and Annette Schnatter have helped build Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for football and Cardinal Park for mens’ and womens’ sports.

“We’ve been fairly successful in business at Papa John’s and we want to share that with entrepreneurs and teach these kids how to be successful,” he said. “If we can get just one or two kids from the $6 million, it will be money well spent.” Their share of the gift is equal to the cost of 515,555 small pepperoni pizzas at Papa John’s.

The $4.64 million from Schnatter’s family foundation will be boosted by $1.66 million from the Charles Koch Foundation.The $6.3 million will go toward two tenure-track and two visiting professors, up to five research grants and up to four doctoral fellowships, as well as classes, a speaker series, seminars and salaries for center staff.

Free enterprises centers funded by the Charles Koch Foundation at George Mason University, Florida State University, the University of Kansas and other U.S. colleges have ignited controversy in their collision with dominant liberal arts cultures. Opponents have objected to contracts that give the Koch Foundation authority over hiring and curricula.

At U of L, faculty hired with the Schnatter-Koch grant “must have demonstrated a track record that is supportive of the center’s mission or show promise of developing such a record.” The university said all hiring and programming will conform with university policies and procedures.

Facing reporters Tuesday, Ramsey denied that the university is ceding academic control to a Schnatter-Koch tandem linked to Republican politics and libertarian economic philosophy.

“You all are seeing something that’s not here,” he said. “This is what a higher educational institution does. It talks about different points of view. It encourages discourse among people and not just one perspective or point of view.”

The legal agreement behind the $6.3 million gift, along with its terms and conditions, was not provided to reporters. Ramsey said the contract has not yet been signed.

Named to lead the Schnatter Center was Stephan Gohmann, an economics professor who joined the U of L faculty in 1988. He is already the BB&T Distinguished Professor in Free Enterprise, which is funded by the charitable arm of BB&T Bank.

“I’ve been here for 26 years and I’ve wanted to have a free market economics institute for a long time,” Gohmann said. “What we’ve found about economic freedom is that there’s a strong association with the things that we like.” Things, he said, like wealth, literacy, entrepreneurship and jobs.

University spokesman Mark Hebert said the U of L College of Business has 1,871 undergraduate and graduate students, making it the fourth biggest college on campus.

Linkages to the University of Louisville run up and down the Schnatter family lines. His wife Annette and grandfather Louis Ackerson are U of L alumni, and his brother Chuck, daughter Kristine and two uncles are all graduates of the Brandeis School of Law.

Reporter James McNair can be reached at jmcnair@kycir.org and (502) 815-6543.

This story was reported by Louisville Public Media's Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

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.

James McNair is a veteran investigative reporter who specializes in business and finance issues.