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Roger Williams University board chairman in R.I. says racial slur ‘slipped out’

The longtime chairman of the Roger
Williams University
board admitted Monday that he had used the N-word during a board meeting,
saying it “kind of slipped out.”

“I apologized for that,” Ralph Papitto said in an
interview on WPRO-AM. “What else can I do? Kill myself?”

Papitto, 80, who stepped down this month after nearly 40
years on the board, admitted he used the racial slur at a May meeting of the
school’s board of trustees. He had been discussing the difficulty of finding
blacks and other minority members to serve on the 16-member board, which at the
time included 14 white men and two women.

Barbara Roberts, then a board member, said Papitto became
irate when he discussed pressures to make the board more diverse, at one point
using the slur to refer to black candidates.

She said he then told the board he knew he couldn’t say that
because of Don Imus, the radio host who was fired after referring to Rutgers
University women’s basketball team
members as “nappy-headed hos.”

“There was, like, this complete and utter silence, and
I was shocked beyond belief and very angry,” Roberts said.

Papitto has given the school at least $7 million, and his
name is on the law school, the only one in Rhode Island.

He said he had never used the term before.

“The first time I heard it was on television and then
rap music or something,” Papitto told WPRO.

The school’s president, Roy Nirschel, and the law school
dean, David Logan, denounced Papitto’s remarks in separate statements Monday.

“Such behavior has no place in the Roger Williams educational
community,” Logan said.

Nirschel echoed the sentiment, condemning Papitto for
“using inappropriate language or derogatory language toward any individual
or group.”

Leaders of three student groups at the law school said they
want Papitto’s name removed from the Ralph R. Papitto School of Law.

“Several people e-mailed me that it will be a disgrace
to have the Papitto name on their resumes and their diplomas,” said
student leader Matt Jerzyk in an e-mailed statement.

Roberts also has called for Papitto’s name to be removed
from the law school.

Logan plans to present the board with a petition from law
students demanding that the school’s name be changed, said university
spokeswoman Judi Johnson.

Papitto said his decision to step down from the board was
based on his age and his desire to spend more time with his family. He denied a
newspaper report that he was forced out over the racial epithet.

Three board members, including Roberts, said they were
ousted after calling for Papitto’s resignation after the incident.

A man who answered the phone at Papitto’s home hung up on an
Associated Press reporter Monday.

Roger Williams University, in Bristol, has about 3,800
undergraduate students. The law school opened in 1993 and was renamed in 1996
for Papitto, the founder of the Fortune 500 company Nortek Inc.

– Associated Press

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