Cal Poly is trying to increase diversity. Yet it’s allowing Chick-fil-A to stay on campus?

Gay rights groups protested outside the Chick-fil-A restaurant at Cal Poly in 2012. The  fast-food outlet recently came under renewed scrutiny when the Academic Senate urged it be banned from campus.
Gay rights groups protested outside the Chick-fil-A restaurant at Cal Poly in 2012. The fast-food outlet recently came under renewed scrutiny when the Academic Senate urged it be banned from campus. The Tribune

Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong invoked both the First Amendment and the slippery slope argument to justify keeping Chick-fil-A on campus.

Both are weak reasons for allowing the homophobic chicken chain on campus; he would have been better off playing it by the book and emphasizing that Cal Poly is contractually obligated to allow Chick-fil-A to stay put until the expiration of a five-year contract signed in 2018.

Instead, Armstrong used highfalutin arguments to try to convince the Cal Poly community that Chick-fil-A has some moral right to sell chicken on campus.

“Who decides what’s bad?” Armstrong asked in response to an Academic Senate resolution urging Cal Poly to terminate its contract with Chick-fil-A.

“What’s the next topic?” Armstrong continued, according to Mustang News. “What’s the next company? Are we going to expect the (Cal Poly) Corporation to investigate, look at every company? Where do we draw the line? It’s a very slippery slope.”

As a matter of fact, we do expect the Cal Poly Corp. to investigate every company.

And we wonder, would Armstrong make the same comment about an on-campus business that, say, donated to organizations advocating for white supremacy?

Let’s hope not.

Decision-makers in positions of power must make choices like this all the time, to determine whether their missions and values align.

There must be some vetting of private companies that seek to do business on public university campuses, because allowing a business to set up shop there is a rare privilege, and one that can be easily interpreted as an implicit endorsement of that company’s values.

And Chick-fil-A has made it clear, both in public statements and in donations to nonprofit organizations, that it believes homosexual acts in general and same-sex marriage in particular are wrong.

At the same time, Chick-fil-A says it’s committed to “serving and valuing everyone regardless of their beliefs or opinions.” We have no reason to believe it doesn’t do exactly that at Cal Poly.

But the public way in which it’s condemned homosexuality is hard to ignore.

Is that message of intolerance one that Cal Poly — which has been working so hard on diversity and inclusion issues — wants to send to students?

And what about the state of California?

It’s sending a mixed — even hypocritical — message by allowing Chick-fil-A on state-owned property while taking a hard line in other areas.

Remember, California is the state that bans publicly funded or sponsored travel by state agencies, including the CSU, to states that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

How hard would it be for the university system to draw up a list of standards that businesses must meet if they want to operate on public property?

This is not denying Chick-fil-A its right to free speech, or depriving students of the opportunity to learn about a variety of viewpoints.

The university is under no obligation to allow a controversial business to be a permanent fixture on campus, where it could make some students and staff uncomfortable.

Chick-fil-A can set up shop on whatever private property it chooses, and that’s exactly what it’s done. It has nearly 80 locations in California alone, including one at Enos Ranch in Santa Maria. And it’s done very well; according to several sources, it’s one of the fastest-growing fast-food chains in the nation.

But it’s efforts to establish locations on public property have been controversial.

In fact, this isn’t the first time Chick-fil-A’s presence on the Cal Poly campus has been questioned.

There were protests — both pro and con Chick-fil-A — in 2012.

According to Mustang News, that prompted an executive with the Cal Poly Corporation to say that, in the future, “Cal Poly Corp. will place special emphasis on how well a business fits with Cal Poly’s community ideals when deciding whether or not to bring a franchise to campus.”

That same review should be applied to businesses already on campus.

We strongly urge President Armstrong to commit to conducting a thorough and transparent review of Chick-fil-A the next time it’s contract is up for renewal so that he can ensure it is a suitable fit for this campus and that the Cal Poly community actually wants it there.

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