Papa John's donates $30K to Kentucky college after pulling scholarship money

Papa John's made a new donation of $30,000 on Monday to a historically black college in Kentucky after it was revealed that $20,000 in scholarships benefitting 10 students paid for with gifts from the pizza-delivery company had been pulled leaving the students scrambling to come up with cash on short notice, according to a company spokesperson.

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But whether that money will be used to fulfill obligations to the 10 students who had their scholarships pulled, and what will be done with the additional $10,000 is unclear. A Simmons College of Kentucky spokesperson confirmed that they received the money, but college officials have not said what will be done with it. An announcement is planned for Thursday, a college spokesperson said.

The original donation funding the $2,000 awards that paid for student living expense was pulled because of what officials at Simmons College of Kentucky seemed to decline the donation from Papa John's in light of a $1 million donation from John Schnatter, the Papa Johns founder who resigned as the company CEO after making racist remarks. The story was first reported by the Courier-Journal.

The unexpected withdrawal of the scholarships was announced at about the same time as Schnatter's pledge. The move ushered him back into the spotlight after he resigned amid backlash for publically criticizing the NFL and his use of a racial slur more than a year ago.

The donation from the pizza franchise, according to the school, was supposed to cover living expenses, such as food and housing. The students were notified by The Rev. Dr. Kevin W. Cosby, the college president, that the funds were revoked.

The question of who was responsible for pulling the money from the 10 students pitted Papa John's against Simmons officials. Simmons said it declined to take money from Papa John's only after being pressured by company officials.

In a prepared statement, Cosby had claimed that the withdrawal of the funds was a direct attack on the students.

"It felt as though someone has taken weapons of mass destruction and flown them into the hopes and dreams and aspirations of some of America’s most vulnerable students," Cosby said.

A Simmons spokeswoman said the school meant only to delay the scholarships and school officials were acting under pressure from Papa John’s diversity director. The school spokeswoman says the company was made uncomfortable by Schnatter’s donation. Meanwhile, a Papa John’s spokeswoman had denied that and said the school’s rejection was unexpected.

In emails sent from the school to the company and shared with FOX Business, it appears that the college is actively declining the money.

"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,"  Von Purdy, Simmons director of development, wrote.

A Simmons spokesperson said the word choice in the email was made after earlier phone calls from Papa Johns that pressured college officials to return the money.

In an email response to the school, a Papa John's official seemed to agree that they don't want the company and Schnatter to be conflated.

"We completely understand the conflict of interest here between John Schnatter's donation to Simmons and the relationship between the Papa John's brand and the college," Victoria Russell Chief of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion of Papa John’s wrote. "Thank you for being proactive in sending this and clearly separating John and the brand."

Schnatter stepped down as CEO of the Louisville-based pizza chain in 2017 after blaming disappointing sales on the NFL player protests. He later resigned as its chairman after using the N-word during a company conference call.

Schnatter told FOX Business earlier this month in an exclusive interview that he resigned because he was ready to retire.

“I was not forced to retire,” he told Maria Bartiromo on “Mornings with Maria”, adding, “we had a fantastic nine-year run. We took the stock from about $6.40 a share at almost 80 bucks. And so good run, good fun, good time -- we were ready to go.”

Schnatter had said his comments regarding the NFL were “misconstrued” and that the company was at fault for not correcting the record.


“I would have liked [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell just to fix the problem. Remember, a third of our budget was the NFL" Schnatter said. "So when the ratings I think were down some 20 percent ... it was hurting our business, it was hurting our franchisees, it was hurting our small business owners.”

In regards to the conference call, Schnatter added that his words “got twisted.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Julia Limitone contributed to this report. 

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Papa Johns and that the pizza-delivery company has given Simmons College of Kentucky $30,000, a confirmation from the college that the money was received and clarification about why it seems like the college proactively declined Papa John's original donation.