Ordering a fried chicken sandwich and waffle fries at the University of Minnesota’s Chick-fil-A restaurant used to be a campus favorite. Suddenly, since anti-gay comments made by the franchise’s president, it’s become political.
Controversy surrounding the national chain’s stance on same-sex marriage has ignited a campus discussion encompassing business ethics, politics and the University’s efforts toward maintaining an inclusive environment. Most recently, students, faculty and staff have jumped behind a petition to remove the restaurant from Coffman Union’s Minnesota Marketplace food court.
“I was not expecting it to get this big this quickly,” Matthew Haas said, the student behind the petition. “My dream would be to see the restaurant removed from Coffman sometime this academic year.”
In its first week, the petition attracted more than 1,200 signatures . Haas, a graduate student in the plant pathology department , said with the upcoming Minnesota marriage amendment vote, it’s time for the University community to take a stand on the issue.
“We are in the middle of a civil rights movement,” Ryan Goltz said in a comment on the petition.
Like Haas, Goltz said he signed the petition because he believes Chick-fil-A’s philosophy on diversity and equality conflicts with the University’s.
In May, the University Senate, which includes faculty, staff and student representatives, voted to oppose the marriage amendment, which would define marriage as between “one man and one woman” in the state. Similarly, the Minnesota Student Association adopted a position statement that opposes the amendment .
“The U has a standpoint on diversity,” Goltz, a nutrition student, later said.
“This restaurant doesn’t stand behind it.”
‘What constitutes a marriage’
The University petition joins a growing number of politicians, gay rights advocates and fellow universities taking a stand against the fast food corporation.
More than 30 other universities’ petitions have sprouted up on Change.org, and mayors in Boston and Chicago have expressed unwillingness to welcome Chick-fil-A in their cities.
These actions stem from recent media statements by Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy.
“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’” Cathy said in a radio interview.
Not all reactions have been negative toward the southern chain.
Most of the 1,600 Chick-fil-A restaurants in the U.S. are located across the southern states that constitute the nation’s Bible Belt . There, those loyal to the company and its values have upheld their support for the company, backing a nationwide “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” on Wednesday.
‘The right side of history’
Chick-fil-A’s president is one of many business leaders who have chosen to take a public stance on the gay marriage issue.
Leaders of large corporations including General Mills, Target and Amazon.com have voiced support for same-sex marriage.
Akshay Rao, a marketing professor in the Carlson School of Management, said this intersection of the business and political worlds is an effort to align corporate identities with the beliefs of their consumers.
For companies that cater to today’s generation, which Rao said is more open to alternative lifestyles, supporting gay marriage can be an effort to “come down on the ‘right’ side of history.”
For Chick-fil-A — which closes on Sundays and hosts the only college football bowl game with an invocation — Rao said it could also be a matter of principle.
Either way, Rao said, the company is in a vulnerable position, because of its brand. Unlike companies like Target and General Mills, that are associated with different brands, “Chick-fil-A is easy to identify,” and therefore, easy to boycott, he said.
Chick-fil-A, which opened in its Minnesota Marketplace location in 2003 , is one of the most popular campus dining destinations, according to University Dining Services .
On Tuesday, July 24, it was egged, according to University police.
In a public statement , the University responded to campus concerns about the restaurant by assuring students, faculty, staff and customers that their viewpoints are valued.
“We review our vendor relationships each year,” the statement said, “and feedback from customers and stakeholders is considered as part of that process.”
The statement emphasizes the University’s dedication to preserving a safe and welcoming campus climate.
Leslie Bowman, the executive director of contract administration, said the University is in a “holding pattern” and gathering information before taking any action.
She said large student petitions have sparked public forums and panel discussions in the past. One of these instances led to clearer language in contracts that gives the University protection to sever vendor relationships based on a business’s ethics.
The University’s statement emphasizes this right: “the U reserves the final decision as to which businesses may operate in Coffman.”
Though such action has never been taken before, Goltz hopes it will happen soon.
“I would be happy to see Chick-fil-A gone,” he said, “from both a political and nutrition standpoint.”
—The Associated Press contributed to this report.