Statement to the Elon University community
Elon University Board of Trustees
April 25, 2013

Over the course of this academic year, the Elon University community has been engaged in a serious discussion sparked by a national controversy about the Chick-fil-A restaurant franchise and some groups that received support from the Winshape Foundation, which is funded primarily by the company and its owners. Some students, faculty, and staff at several colleges and universities across the country objected to the presence of Chick-fil-A on their campuses. On many campuses, including Elon, the debate became passionate and strident.

Elon University’s response to the controversy was to appoint a 15-member Vendor Policy Study Committee, including students, faculty, staff, trustees, and alumni. Given our commitment to student engagement and our respect for human differences, we saw great value in taking time to study the issues, dig deeper into the facts, understand differing points of view, and weigh the evidence and opinions expressed by hundreds of stakeholders. The committee was particularly impressed by the courage and convictions of the Elon student body, particularly the Student Government Association and Spectrum, Elon's LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer/questioning, intersex and allies) alliance and awareness organization.

Affirmation of a climate of non-discrimination and the LGBTQIA community at Elon

From the outset, we wish to affirm the Board’s conviction to uphold the University’s non-discrimination policy. Disrespect to any member of the Elon community based on that person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, age, color, religious beliefs, national or ethnic origin, disability, or veteran’s status is antithetical to the values of the University and counter to the University’s Honor Code. We applaud efforts to confront discrimination whenever it is present on the Elon campus. Over the past year, under the leadership of Provost Steven House and Interim Associate Provost for Inclusive Community Brooke Barnett, we have put in place new response systems for documenting and confronting incidents of bias and discrimination.

Further, it is the Board’s desire that Elon be a safe and respectful environment for every member of the community. Elon has worked over the past decade and continues to be fully committed in its efforts to ensure that LGBTQIA students, faculty, and staff are welcomed and full members of our academic community. To this end, we have offered same-sex partner benefits to employees, recently opened an LGBTQIA resource room in Powell House, and completed hiring for a full-time staff position to support the interest and needs of the LGBTQIA community, especially our students. We recognize that being a young LGBTQIA person on a university campus often presents many challenges, and Elon strives to create an environment in which all people can grow to their fullest potential.

The specific issue of Chick-fil-A

As noted above, Elon is committed to inclusion and providing a safe environment for all Elon stakeholders. As an institution, we also believe in freedom of expression and the value of thoughtful and respectful dialogue concerning difficult issues. These twin ideals represent the essence of a civil community. When it comes to the issues surrounding Chick-Fil-A, the Board has determined that Chick-fil-A should be allowed to remain on the Elon campus. Three primary factors drove the board's decision:

  1. There is no actionable cause to remove Chick-fil-A from campus.
    Elon's food service contract is with Aramark (not Chick-fil-A), and the staff serving Chick-fil-A food at Elon are Aramark employees who are protected by a non-discrimination policy similar to Elon's. There has been no evidence of discrimination or complaints about service at Chick-fil-A on our campus. Chick-fil-A, Inc. has issued a public statement affirming its commitment "to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect, regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."
  2. We believe that universities should be places that promote the free and open exchange of ideas.
    The Board is reluctant to put the University in a position of monitoring or making value judgments about the lawful philanthropic giving of vendors or related organizations, board members, alumni, faculty and staff, students, or friends. Removing Chick-fil-A solely on the basis of the owners' stated views or their lawful philanthropic choices would stand in opposition to Elon’s mission statement, which encourages freedom of thought and liberty of conscience.
  3. Circumstances regarding this vendor have changed since the issues were raised last summer.
    Chick-fil-A, its owners and the Winshape Foundation have modified previous positions and stepped away from taking political stands on gay rights issues. Despite the Board's reluctance to make judgments about the philanthropy of vendors or others associated with Elon, the Board thinks it is notable that the Winshape Foundation made changes to its charitable giving in 2011. Mr. Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, explained to members of the Vendor Policy Study Committee that the foundation previously provided financial support to certain groups without understanding the full impact of their positions. He said the foundation is now more aware of the sensitivities of Chick-fil-A customers and is more diligent about researching the organizations it supports. In light of changes by the Winshape Foundation, Campus Pride, an advocacy group for LGBTQIA issues on college campuses, dropped its campaign to boycott Chick-fil-A. Campus Pride Executive Director Shane Windmeyer began a dialogue with Mr. Cathy and wrote a public blog for the Huffington Post (http://huff.to/X97Y6v) explaining his relationship with Mr. Cathy and his hopes for seeking common ground with mutual respect. 

Given the previously announced plans to remodel the Octagon area of Moseley Center, which will no longer include food service facilities, the University and Aramark, with the agreement of Chick-fil-A, have agreed to move its location to the first floor of McEwen Dining Hall by early fall.

The Board has not made a choice between favoring inclusion or favoring freedom of expression. Rather, the Board embraces both values. We will continue to support efforts to ensure that Elon is a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment in which people of all backgrounds and beliefs can express their points of view.

Actions on other findings of the Vendor Policy Study Committee

In addition to studying the issues related to Chick-fil-A, the Vendor Policy Study Committee was also charged by the Board with two additional tasks: 1) To review the University’s current purchasing policies and existing guidelines used to manage these policies; and 2) To develop options for the University to address concerns about the actions of a vendor.

The Board agrees with the committee's recommendations to direct the Senior Vice President for Business, Finance, and Technology to establish a working group to take the following actions:

Related to charge #1: Create greater visibility of Elon's non-discrimination policy on the University's purchasing website, on vendor registration forms, and in signage in key locations on campus; continue the University's successful track record of partnering with local companies and those owned by people of diverse backgrounds; and educate faculty and staff with purchasing authority about vendors that have non-discrimination policies similar to Elon’s.

Related to charge #2: Create a formal process for stakeholders in the University to raise grievances about the actions or policies of vendors that allows for informal, speedy resolution whenever possible; and create a standing process for review of complaints and an avenue for appeal to an appropriate committee of the Board of Trustees for significant grievances that cannot otherwise be resolved.

Moving Forward

The Board believes Elon has benefited from carefully considering these complicated and sometimes deeply personal issues. Our community has resisted calls to make a quick and unilateral decision, studying the issues thoroughly, listening carefully to all opinions and insisting that every member of the community be treated with respect. We are well positioned to move forward and continue this and other dialogues in a positive and constructive way.

As Elon moves forward, the Board endorses the Vendor Policy Study Committee’s recommendation that the University develop a standing structure to support constructive civic dialogue, particularly around controversial issues. Student leaders, in particular, have asked for more forums in which they can engage in informal, small group conversations with peers, perhaps following well-designed panel presentations or public debates. We believe such forums would be healthy for the intellectual climate of the campus and assist members of our community in understanding and expressing the kind of university we want Elon to be – a place that is respectful of many points of view and able to explore differences while celebrating the values we have in common.

Trustees would like to thank members of the Vendor Policy Study Committee, co-chaired by Trustee Dr. William Herbert '68 and Dr. Connie Book, associate provost for academic affairs. Their thorough and fair work has helped us answer difficult questions and improve policies and procedures. We also thank the entire community for engaging in a process that has demonstrated how much we all care about each other and the University. We thank each of you for the many contributions you make every day to create a respectful environment for learning and personal growth.

Vendor Policy Study Committee Report
You are encouraged to read the full report of the Vendor Policy Study Committee to the Board of Trustees, which is posted on the committee's website: http://www.elon.edu/e-web/administration/vendor_policy_committee.xhtml