A letter to the Ball State Board of Trustees from Rai Peterson

Dear Rick Hall and Members of the Board of Trustees:

First, I bleed Cardinal Red. I’ve been affiliated with Ball State in one way or another since 1981 and was, in fact, the student member of the Board in the early 80s. I know that the Board operates with the best interests of Ball State at heart; the new Health Professions Building is a testament to your commitment to providing outstanding education to Hoosiers. I know that you stand ready to defend the University with your own names and even your own money, if necessary. As a body, the Board takes its responsibilities to campus, Muncie, and the State of Indiana as solemn duties. The University’s involvement with the Muncie School Corporation shows your deep and abiding commitment to the community and the state. Your devotion to Ball State often goes unseen, but your expertise and vision underpin all of our success.

This is the first time I have written to the Board of Trustees. I did not agree with the dismissals of Blaine Brownell or Paul Ferguson, but I understood that these were internal, personnel matters, and I trusted that the Board knew what was best for Ball State. In all of the time I have been here, Ball State has worked steadily toward becoming a more diverse and welcoming campus. The $4 million dollar planned Multi-Cultural Center is a key statement in that regard.

In the case of continuing to use John Schnatter’s name and money at Ball State University, I think you’ve made a public relations mistake that could cost the University much more in the long run than his contributions are worth. Schnatter is a Ball State alumnus, and I appreciate your attempt to explain away his comments, to defend him as a successful entrepreneur with roots in Muncie and on our campus. If any school should stand by him now, it is us.

However, Mr. Schnatter’s offenses to diversity go beyond his utterance of a single epithet. Remember, the phone call during which he allegedly uttered this verboten word was in response to his insensitivity to the offence he caused by his remarks about NFL players protesting the unequal treatment of black Americans under the law. Mr. Schnatter has mired himself in a reputation of racism and callousness. He has not publicly embodied the values that you have charged the faculty to teach.

Never mind that Purdue University, University of Louisville, and the city of Jeffersonville, IN have rejected Mr. Schnatter’s naming gifts. We don’t have to follow what other Boards and entities decide. But we must weigh the facts, including the public perception of this situation. I understand that Board members have communicated directly with Mr. Schnatter as virtually none of the public has, but Mr. Schnatter has not demonstrated a change of mind that convinces everyone. His public persona is in opposition to what we stand for.

Continuing to endorse Mr. Schnatter’s character at this point creates a dissonance that is too difficult for faculty to bridge in the classroom, for Admissions to overcome in high schools, for departments to defend when recruiting new colleagues, for the University to withstand in the court of public opinion. The Board has brought shame on Ball State University’s name.

I implore you to act swiftly to correct this misstep. It will no longer be enough to simply remove Mr. Schnatter’s name and offer to return his money. Some act of contrition is required now to save the reputation of the school we all love. Might I suggest immediate action on the planned Multi-Cultural Center and an endowed chair for its director, funded through the largess of the Board?

We had such momentum in President Mearns’ sincere interest in the community, in our benevolent sheltering of Muncie schools, even in our Admissions decision to level the field by making SAT scores optional. Ball State was riding a wave of positivity. Can you help steer us back to that by using your collective leadership acumen to move us past this disconsonant action before August 20, when our students and faculty return to our soi-disant welcoming campus?

Sincerely,
Rai Peterson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English
Ball State University

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