Some universities are nervous about the Ralph Papitto controversy . Papitto, 80 years old and very wealthy, used the N-word in a discussion of diversity at a trustees meeting of the Roger Williams law school, which bears his name. After protests, Papitto requested that his name be removed. But that appears to be in response to heavy pressure from protesters and the university. Papitto said that the N-word “just kinda slipped out” and that the word, which he said has never been in his vocabulary, may have come to mind after he listened to rap music. Those unconvincing explanations made it seem that he very much wanted to be excused so that Ralph A. Papitto Law School could retain its name.
The removal of a donor’s name from a university school or building in the wake of a racial slur is very unusual. But universities are on alert because naming battles are now fairly common, mostly over buildings named for felon-donors from Kenneth Lay to Alfred Taubman.
While debate over naming raged, Seton Hall University students went to classes at Dennis Kozlowski Hall, passed through the Dennis Kozlowski rotunda on their way to the Frank Walsh Library or perhaps to the (Robert) Brennan Recreation Center. Kozlowski, former chief executive officer of Tyco, was convicted of 22 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, grand larceny and falsifying records. Tyco board member Frank Walsh pleaded guilty to concealing a $20 million bonus and First Jersey Securities founder Robert Brennan is serving time for bankruptcy, fraud, and money laundering. The Kozlowski name was removed from the hall and the rotunda at his request and the university regents changed the name of the Brennan Center. Seton Hall kept Walsh’s name on the library on rounds that his offense was milder and that he pleaded guilty.