Papa John, Koch brother give multimillion-dollar gifts to U of L

UL school of business

The University of Louisville’s College of Business

The University of Louisville today announced a combined $6.3 million in gifts from Papa John’s founder John Schnatter and the Charles Koch Foundation, a philanthropic offshoot of the prominent conservative brothers, to support an expansion of the university’s economics and entrepreneurship programs.

The gifts — $4.64 million from Schnatter’s family foundation and $1.66 million from the Koch Foundation — are intended to fund the creation of the John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise at U of L’s College of Business. The funds will be distributed over seven years and support the hiring of two tenure-track professors and two visiting professorships, according to the university, as well as an outreach director and an administrative assistant.

Stephan Gohmann, the BB&T Professor of Free Enterprise in the school’s Department of Economics, will be director of the new center. Gohmann is a 26-year veteran of the university who said the funding will enable him to expand current offerings while providing “different points of view” for students, including expanded lectures, seminars, symposiums, and an annual keynote speaker with a national profile.

The College of Business is the fourth-largest at U of L, with 1,871 undergraduate and graduate students.

U of L president James Ramsey, an economist, said the gifts will allow faculty and students to further explore the role of free enterprise in society.

“John’s commitment to giving back to our community and university is well-known,” Ramsey said. He also thanked the Charles Koch Foundation “for their support of higher education.”

The creation of the new center must be voted on by the Faculty Senate and approved by the board of trustees. U of L didn’t provide a timeline for those votes.

Schnatter, the hugely successful CEO of Papa John’s International, is a longtime and generous contributor to U of L, though his focus has predominantly been on athletics. He gave $5 million for naming rights at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and another $10 million in 2007, to help fund the stadium’s expansion. He has contributed more than $20 million to the university’s athletic programs.

John Schnatter announcing gift to U of L College of Business | Photo by Stephen George

John Schnatter announces gift to the U of L College of Business. | Photo by Stephen George

Schnatter said he first approached U of L about making a donation to the business school to support its entrepreneurship program. And later, with the help of the university, he brought the Charles Koch Foundation on board to expand the size of the gift.

“I’m a big fan of free enterprise and voluntary exchange,” Schnatter said. “I think the discoveries of free markets, free enterprise and freedom in general have done as much for civilization as any other discovery among men. The Koch philosophy lines up with those beliefs.”

The Charles Koch Foundation has donated roughly $80,000 to U of L in the past, supporting “similar areas” of study, said Keith Inman, a chief fundraiser at the university.

Nationwide, the Charles Koch Foundation has donated to more than 250 colleges and universities, bringing a focus on free enterprise principles — and stirring political controversy. When the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting first revealed U of L was in talks with Schnatter and the foundation in December, it reported that the inclusion of one of the controversial conservative brothers had roiled some on campus.

Student groups have arisen to protest Koch donations at other universities, including ACC counterpart Florida State University, which received a $2.8 million contribution from the Charles Koch Foundation. There, the donation has led to an embrace of conservative causes in the classroom, according to KYCIR:

The Koch deal bolstered the standing of free-markets philosophy at Florida State. Beyond the programs and like-minded professors, free-markets content has gained greater prominence in economics instruction. Students in an Introduction to Economics class this summer, according to its syllabus, had to watch 15 videos of Fox News journalist and government regulation critic John Stossel, who makes appearances paid for by the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity. Stossel’s latest book is titled “No They Can’t: Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed.”

U of L officials insisted neither Schnatter nor the Koch Foundation would have direct influence over hiring or classroom instruction here. The university did not provide the contracts for both gifts to reporters at Tuesday’s announcement — Ramsey said they had not yet been signed.

According to a summary provided by U of L, all faculty hires at the center “will follow the normal procedures for hiring faculty members in the college and the university.” Per the summary, the contract also states that faculty hires “must have demonstrated a track record that is supportive of the center’s mission or show promise of developing such a record.”

In a shift from a previous version of the contract reported by KYCIR, it appears the final version gives hiring authority to the business school dean over Gohmann. The school’s current interim dean is Rohan Christie-David.

Schnatter has also donated heavily — though not exclusively — to Republican candidates, officeholders and causes, according to records from the Center for Responsive Politics. He told IL he’s hosted four political fundraisers — two for members of each party — and that he tries to steer clear of overtly political actions.

The College of Business has emphasized entrepreneurship in its curriculum, and the contributions from Schnatter and the Charles Koch Foundation will simply enhance that focus, supporters say.

“I think the center is a great idea that will enhance the study and teaching of business in a free-enterprise setting,” said Ben Foster, a business school professor and member of the Faculty Senate.

A source inside the business school who requested anonymity to speak freely agreed that the gifts would strengthen the focus on free enterprise and entrepreneurship at U of L. The source added, though, that it would be naive to think the well-known political influence of the Kochs wouldn’t also be felt in the classroom.

There are more than 60 centers and institutes at U of L, most of which are bolstered by outside funding. Among them are the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research and the McConnell Center for Political Leadership, named for the current Senate Majority Leader.