trustee at Roger Williams University said the longtime chairman of the board
was forced to resign this week after he uttered a racist slur at a May meeting.
This week, Ralph R. Papitto stepped down after more than
40 years on the board, including the last 18 as chairman. The 80-year-old, for
whom the university’s law school is named, said he was retiring because of his
age and a desire to spend more time with his family.
But Dr. Barbara H. Roberts, who served as a trustee for
two years and was Papitto’s former cardiologist, told The Providence Journal
that Papitto was forced out after using a racial slur about Black people during a May 2
At the time, Papitto and the trustees were discussing a
report that criticized the board’s lack of diversity. Roberts said Papitto
became agitated and used the epithet.
Papitto refused to comment to the Journal about
the epithet and said he left the board on his own accord.
“This is a private institution and we consider board
meeting discussions confidential,” he told the Journal. “I stepped down
because the time has come.”
In a July 2 letter to Roberts, Papitto wrote that he had
“apologized to the Board for a highly inappropriate statement I made at a
private session of the Board.”
“Any further publication itself is potentially tortious
activity that can only harm the University and will be considered a serious
negative action,” he wrote.
In the letter, Papitto said Roberts had “maligned” him
and said, “I have cut no deals with anyone and don’t intend to.”
Papitto, who founded a Fortune 500 company, Nortek Inc.,
has given more than $7 million to the university.
In April, the university received a formal “Notice of
Concern” from a regional accrediting organization, the New England Association
of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). The association warned university officials
that the board of trustees must start following its own bylaws and appoint a
more diverse board or the association could take action that could jeopardize
the institution’s accreditation.
Roberts said the trustees were discussing the report when
Papitto became agitated about the call to add more women and minorities to the
“He started saying, ‘They want us to add more poor kids
and they want us to add more, well, I can’t call them n——, I learned that
from Imus,’“ Roberts said.
Papitto was referring to ousted New York talk-show host
Don Imus, who was fired over racist comments about the Rutgers women’s
basketball in April.
At a May 9 emergency meeting, trustees Roberts, Joseph
Caramadre and Sally Lapides demanded Papittos resignation, the Journal reported.
After two months of meetings and negotiation, Papitto stepped down Monday with
honorary “emeritus” state, the paper said. The three trustees who demanded
Papitto’s resignation have since been removed from the board
Several trustees declined comment for the story.
University president Roy Nirschel said the board would add 11 to 13 members in
the coming year, including women, minorities and alumni.
“We want the board to be consistent with our core mission
here, bridging the world,” he said. “It’s important to have a board that is
larger, that has stronger committee structures. Sometimes boards have to catch
up to where the university is going.”
– Associated Press
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