Roger Williams Donor and Trustee Who Made Racial Slur Wants Name Removed From Law School

PROVIDENCE
R.I.
Amid outrage from
students, school leaders and legislators over his use of the N-word, the former
chairman of the Roger Williams University
board said Wednesday he wants his name removed from its law school.

Ralph Papitto, who has donated millions of dollars to the university, used the slur during a May
board meeting. He admitted saying it Monday, two days after it was first
reported, and said he had apologized, but then saw demands only intensify to
strip his name from Rhode Island’s only law school.

Papitto, 80, asked that his name be removed from the Ralph R. Papitto
School of Law in a letter to the new chairman of the Roger Williams board,
Richard Bready. Bready said in a written statement that the board accepted
Papitto’s request and “will continue to move forward with its plans to ensure a
more diverse board.”

“I take full responsibility for this matter and ask for understanding from
the community,” Papitto said in a statement read by his spokesman, Mike
Trainor. “I do not want this controversy, which at present is running out of
control, to further the damage already caused to the university.

“We certainly can come up with a name that the entire Rhode Island
community can agree is something we are all proud of, that our children could
look up to,” said Matt Jerzyk, a law school student who circulated a petition
for the name change.

Papitto, who is white, said Monday that the slur “kind of slipped out”
while discussing the difficulty of finding minorities to serve on the university’s 16-member
board, which then included 14 white men, two women and no minorities.

Since May, three board members who called for Papitto’s resignation were
ousted. Papitto himself resigned this month after four decades on the board.

Roger Williams’ president and the law school dean denounced Papitto’s
remarks, but students and minority leaders called for the university to do more to
distance itself from Papitto.

Leaders of Rhode Island’s minority caucus held a Statehouse news conference
Wednesday and called for taking Papitto’s name off the law school. They also
want a meeting with university
President Roy Nirschel and the reinstatement of the three dismissed board
members.

Julian Dash, president of the Rhode Island Black Political Action
Committee, said the university
board still needs to do more to diversify its board, but he also struck a note
of forgiveness.

“I do believe that while this was a grave mistake, everyone deserves an
opportunity to right their wrongs,” Dash said. “This is a great first step.”

Roger Williams University,
in Bristol, has about 3,800 undergraduate students. The law school opened in
1993 and was renamed in 1996 for Papitto, who founded the building products
manufacturer Nortek Inc.

In 2001, Papitto pledged $7 million to Roger Williams, the largest single
gift in the school’s history. A spokesman for the board, Mike Doyle, said
Papitto had not yet fulfilled the pledge.

When asked whether Papitto would honor his pledges, Trainor said Papitto
was a man of his word, and added he remained very interested in the school’s
future.

 – Associated Press

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