LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The president of Simmons College said Papa John's International decided to take back $20,000 in scholarships due to former CEO John Schnatter's $1 million donation, though Papa John's said the scholarships were declined by the college.
President Dr. Kevin W. Cosby said Papa John's International decided to take back $20,000 in scholarships previously promised to students after Schnatter announced his donation to the college.
Cosby said Papa John's had agreed to provide 10 students with $2,000 scholarships in early August before telling Cosby three weeks into the semester that the scholarships would be revoked due to Schnatter's donation.
“I was stunned when I was told on September 11 by an executive at Papa John’s that scholarships promised to our students were being revoked because of the donation that was made to Simmons from the founder and Former CEO of Papa John’s International," Cosby said.
Simmons College said scholarship recipients are now scrambling to cover the $2,000. Recipient Jalen Beene called Papa John's decision unprofessional, saying the scholarships were helping students in need.
“Doing something that will help students in ways you couldn’t imagine and then taking it back out of anger is unprofessional," Beene said.
Papa John's said the scholarships were not revoked, but instead Simmons College sent an email declining the money on September 3, the day Schnatter announced his donation.
“We were disappointed when the administration of Simmons College unexpectedly told us last week they would not move forward with the scholarship program we had offered in good faith. The claim we took away scholarships is absolutely false. We are committed to the communities we serve and have provided more than $1 million in grants this year through The Papa John's Foundation," a spokesperson from Papa John's said in a written statement.
"Why would we turn down money when a lot of our students are dealing with deficits," director of public relations at Simmons College, Krystal Goodner said at a news conference Friday.
The pizza company sent a copy of an email to WHAS11. It shows, on September 3, Simmons College's director of development, Von Purdy, reached out to Papa John's Chief of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Victoria Russell. In the email, Purdy wrote: "Thank you for our discussions on how to help support the students of Simmons College of Kentucky. In light of recent news, it is best to decline your scholarships at this time and perhaps look at other ways to partner in the future."
Purdy said Russell instructed her to send the email to Papa John's.
"Victoria wanted me to put something in language of that effect because it certainly was not my idea," Purdy said.
Purdy said Russell called her the day Schnatter announced his $1 million donation and encouraged her to send the email to the pizza company.
"I sent it in order to appease the relationship and to keep the $20,000 on the table."
"We didn't know it was going to be used against her," Goodner said.
According to Goodner, when Dr. Cosby called Russell asking why the scholarships were revoked, Russell said it was due to "conflict of interest."
WHAS11 reached out to Papa John's for further comment, and in a statement a spokesperson said: "We were told by Simmons we would receive the names of the scholarship recipients in order to issue the checks, but we never received that information.”
Goodner and Purdy said they hope to get past the dispute and look forward to continuing their relationship with the Papa John's Foundation.
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