Change the name for the sake of the students
01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The name of the law school at Roger Williams University has to be changed because the school is in danger of becoming a sad, snickering joke if it isn't.
It might seem unfair to Ralph R. Papitto that one dumb, ugly word spoken at a board of trustees meeting ends his expensive bid for academic immortality. But it was not just one dumb, ugly word. It was one dumb, ugly word that spilled from years of close, chummy indulgence on the board.
The university is left with no choice but to make a clean break with someone who has given it a load of cash and an embarrassing stain on its reputation. If it doesn't, if Roger Williams decides to let the name the Ralph R. Papitto School of Law stand, then it risks devaluing the credentials of its law students — sending graduates off to present their resumés and hope potential employers don't read the paper.
Already, some law students have circulated a petition demanding that the name of their school be changed. They acted after a story by Jennifer Jordan in Saturday's Journal revealed that Papitto had used the "N-word" during a May meeting of the board of trustees, then tried to get three board members who criticized his behavior and demanded his resignation removed.
Those three members — Dr. Barbara Roberts, Papitto's former cardiologist; philanthropist Joseph Caramadre; and Sally Lapides, owner of Residential Properties — were removed from the board, and last week Roberts and Caramadre confirmed to Jordan what had happened at that meeting. It was a rare look inside what has been a very closed part of university operations.
Papitto declined to discuss with Jordan what had happened at the meeting, saying it was a private matter. But after the story broke, he headed for the refuge of talk radio, where he made matters worse.
On the air, Papitto said he had never before used the word at the center of the controversy. Actually, he said he "never, never, never" used it. He said it just slipped out, that he never even knew he said it.
Actually, it's difficult to imagine that word slipping out of any mouth it hadn't slipped out of before. It's a hard, self-exposing kind of word that
seems to require some serious priming before use.
Papitto also said the first time he heard the word was on television — "in rap music or something." He really did. He didn't say, however, how many rap CDs he currently owns.
When that's taken care of, it would seem appropriate to invite the three trustees who were removed from the board for showing some real character to return. You know, for the sake of credibility.
Then, the students can get back on the trail to their law degrees.
And the Ralph R. Papitto School of Law can become just another quaint, quirky piece of Rhode Island history, like one of those bridges that's been blown up.