University of Louisville President James Ramsey publicly confirmed Thursday that the university is in talks to receive a large monetary gift — said to be $6 million — from Papa John’s International CEO John Schnatter and the Charles Koch Foundation.
“We do not have a donation,” Ramsey said at a Thursday afternoon meeting of the U of L Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee. “We have not accepted a gift from the Koch Foundation. It is in discussion.”
The subject was not part of the committee’s agenda, but was brought up by Trustee Steve Wilson. Until Thursday, trustees had not been briefed on the gift, at least as a group.
“The gift is really with John Schnatter,” Ramsey said Thursday of the Anchorage resident who has donated $20 million to the UofL athletic program. “He has asked the Koch Foundation if they would be supportive of a gift to the University of Louisville for the creation of a center for free economics.”
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed last week that the university was in talks with Schnatter and the Koch Foundation.
Sources said Schnatter would donate $4.5 million, Koch $1.5 million and that the parties were haggling over contract terms. Faculty and students expressed concern that Koch — one of the libertarian and Republican-supporting Koch brothers — would use U of L as a launchpad for corporate boosterism.
Such concerns have been raised at other colleges accepting Koch Foundation money, most notably George Mason University and Florida State University. At FSU, which has received $2.8 million from Koch, economics professors hired with foundation money must be “free markets” advocates who see society through the Koch lens. A summer macroeconomics class at FSU was laden with videos of anti-government crusader John Stossel.
In a separate interview, UofL Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Hughes said he had not seen any of the paperwork for the Schnatter-Koch gift.
“I’d say we’re appreciative of that, as we are all of the donations to the university,” he said. “It takes a lot of money to run a university.”
Dr. Hughes, a family practitioner in Murray, Ky., said acceptance of the proposed gift will come down to the review process, not because of any confluence of beliefs.
“We’re going to see donations coming from a lot of people of different political persuasions, religious affiliations, whatever it may be,” he said. “I don’t think that we should put a litmus test to them.”
Ramsey did not tell board members where negotiations stood with Schnatter and Koch. Nor could he offer a timetable for an agreement.
“These things move at their own pace,” he said.
Reporter James McNair can be reached at email@example.com and (502) 814-6543.
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.