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‘A bastion of bigotry’: Faculty demand that KU sever ties with Chick-fil-A

University of Kansas faculty, staff and students object to the university moving Chick-fil-A restaurant to a prominent spot in the campus Memorial Union.
University of Kansas faculty, staff and students object to the university moving Chick-fil-A restaurant to a prominent spot in the campus Memorial Union. File photo

University of Kansas faculty, advocating for LGBTQ people on campus, are denouncing the school’s new relationship with Chick-fil-A restaurant chain and calling for a boycott.

Chick-fil-A had operated out of the basement of KU’s Wescoe Hall for 15 years, but this school year moved up to a prominent spot in the student union. In addition, the restaurant secured a sponsorship — the newly created “Chick-fil-A Coin Toss” at the start of every Jayhawks home football game for the next several years.

“KU granted Chick-fil-A, a bastion of bigotry, a prime retail location in the heart of our campus,” KU’s Sexuality & Gender Diversity Faculty and Staff Council said in a letter sent this week to Chancellor Doug Girod, the provost’s office and the athletic department.

“Moving Chick-fil-A to the Union and granting it a role at the start of all home football games violates the feelings of safety and inclusion that so many of us have striven to create, foster, and protect on campus, and sends a message that the Union, KU Athletics, and the administration at large are more concerned about money and corporate sponsorship than the physical, emotional, and mental well being of marginalized and LGBTQ people.”

The council objects to the university relationship with Chick-fil-A because of the owner’s “history of supporting organizations that are hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people, families, and communities,” the letter said.

“The culture of Chick-fil-A fosters hate and discrimination on multiple levels. In short, Chick-fil-A on KU’s campus stands in direct contrast to the university’s mission of fostering a multicultural, inclusive environment.”

Chick-fil-A did not immediately respond to calls from The Star requesting comment.

Students across the country have petitioned and protested against having their chicken sandwiches and waffle fries served up on campus by Chick-fil-A.

The chain first came under fire in 2011 when it was reported that through its charity, WinShape, millions of dollars were donated to support anti-gay rights groups. Then in 2012, Dan Cathy, the conservative owner of the Atlanta-based fast-food chain, made public statements condemning same-sex marriage.

“We’re 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,” The Washington Post quoted Cathy as saying. “And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”

KU associate professor Katie Batza, who teaches women and gender studies and is president of the faculty and staff council, said her group, along with student groups, has been in discussions with university administrators for years over the existence of Chick-fil-A on the Lawrence campus.

Since 2004, the restaurant had been located in the food court in the basement of Wescoe Hall and had limited hours of operation. The move puts the restaurant in a high traffic area of the union, where more students, faculty and campus visitors dine every day, and it is within a few 100 feet of the Sexuality & Gender Diversity Faculty and Staff Council office, Batza said.

The council has about 30 members, but she said it represents hundreds of faculty, staff and students who “are very upset about this. My sense is that there will be hundreds who will boycott or protest.”

In 2014 students and faculty had asked university officials not to renew the restaurant’s contract.

“And despite that they went ahead and signed a contract for another 10 years,” Batza said. The latest move, she said, is another indication that concern about having the chain on campus “is falling on deaf ears.”

Batza said the council is now preparing a “no vendor list” for the KU provost in hopes of preventing a similar situation with some other company that faculty and students object to.

But as for Chick-fil-A, Batza said Interim Provost Carl W. Lejuez told the council its best bet was to wait for 2024, when the restaurant’s contract is due for renewal. The council can hope that the university does not extend the contract. “But they are not giving us any guarantee that the contact won’t be renewed again,” Batza said.

In its current contract, the chain pays KU a leasing fee of $60,000 a year.

In a statement to The Star on Wednesday, Lejuez said that moving the restaurant to the union was a money-saving action: The restaurant contract called for upgrades at Wescoe that would cost the university roughly $3 million. Moving the restaurant to the union cost about $400,000.

Lejuez said he became aware of the objections to Chick-fil-A moving to the union over the summer. In a message to the campus last week, he encouraged anyone to talk with him about concerns.

“Moving forward, I believe it is important to have thoughtful discussion and deliberation when we enter into contracts,” he said. “In the future, we will do so in a manner that is transparent and informed by our commitment to affirm diversity and to be a welcoming and inclusive campus.”

The university isn’t saying how much Chick-fil-A pays for its sponsorship of the game coin toss, but generally sponsors get an announcement over the public address system at the game along with mentions on the scoreboard and television.

The chain has a huge presence in college sports, especially in the South. On Friday, Alabama and Duke universities will play in the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

But the chain appears to be expanding its presence in Midwestern colleges. Kansas State University announced earlier this year that for the first time, Chick-fil-A sandwiches would be served at concession stands at home football games.

Chick-fil-A is also located on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus and near the University of Missouri’s football stadium in Columbia.

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Mará has written on all things education for The Star for 20 years, including issues of school safety, teen suicide, universal pre-K programs, college costs, campus protests and university branding.
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