IMAGE: Ralph Papitto
Stew Milne  /  AP
Roger Williams University Chairman Ralph Papitto looks on during graduation ceremonies in Bristol, R.I., on May 20, 2006.
updated 7/18/2007 7:31:39 PM ET 2007-07-18T23:31:39

Amid outrage from students, school leaders and legislators over his use of the N-word, the former chairman of the Roger Williams University board said Wednesday he wants his name removed from its law school.

Ralph Papitto, who has donated millions of dollars to the university, used the slur during a May board meeting. He admitted saying it Monday, two days after it was first reported, and said he had apologized, but then saw demands only intensify to strip his name from Rhode Island's only law school.

"I take full responsibility for this matter and ask for understanding from the community," Papitto said in a statement read by his spokesman, Mike Trainor. "I do not want this controversy, which at present is running out of control, to further the damage already caused to the university."

Papitto, 80, asked that his name be removed from the Ralph R. Papitto School of Law in a letter sent to the new chairman of the Roger Williams board. It was not clear when the board would act on his request.

"We certainly can come up with a name that the entire Rhode Island community can agree is something we are all proud of, that our children should look up to," said Matt Jerzyk, a law school student who circulated a petition for the name change.

Papitto said Monday that the slur "kind of slipped out" while discussing the difficulty of finding minorities to serve on the university's 16-member board, which then included 14 white men, two women and no minorities.

Since May, three board members who called for Papitto's resignation were ousted. Papitto himself resigned this month after four decades on the board.

Roger Williams' president and the law school dean denounced Papitto's remarks, but students and minority leaders called for the university to do more to distance itself from Papitto.

Leaders of Rhode Island's minority caucus held a Statehouse news conference Wednesday and called for taking Papitto's name off the law school. They also want a meeting with university President Roy Nirschel and the reinstatement of the three dismissed board members.

Roger Williams University, in Bristol, has about 3,800 undergraduate students. The law school opened in 1993 and was renamed in 1996 for Papitto, who founded the building products manufacturer Nortek Inc.

In 2001, Papitto pledged $7 million to Roger Williams, the largest single gift in the school's history. A spokesman for the board, Mike Doyle, said Papitto had not yet fulfilled the pledge.

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