Despite objections from several students and concerns from some trustees, Chick-fil-A could be serving food by January on the College of DuPage's Glen Ellyn campus.
The school's board of trustees voted 4-3 to approve a contract amendment with Sodexo, the company that manages its food service, that includes plans for a Chick-fil-A inside the cafeteria. The restaurant would take the place of Grill 155.
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"Chick-fil-A has a history of discriminative practices that are very well-documented," said Trustee Kim Savage, who voted against the contract. "As a company, they certainly have a right to their religious beliefs, but I am concerned we would be allowing our publicly funded institution to generate revenue for an organization that does not uphold our nondiscrimination guidelines."
Chick-fil-A has drawn criticism in recent years from gay rights organizations.
In 2012, for example, then Chick-fil-A President and current CEO Dan Cathy entered the national debate on gay marriage when he said on a radio show, "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."
In response to that statement, Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno led a push to ban a new Chick-fil-A location in Logan Square, a move supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
"This behavior of a CEO is highly controversial and courting such a business strategy is in direct opposition to the values of the college and the local community," said Marilyn Claes, one of three students who spoke at the board meeting. "Such wave-making actions are foolhardy, shortsighted and counterproductive to a learning environment."
The debate over Chick-fil-A has spread to other college campuses. Davidson College in North Carolina gave Chick-fil-A the boot after an online petition called for the school to stop serving its products at campus events. Nearly 1,300 students at Louisville signed a petition asking that its Chick-fil-A be removed.
Sodexo, for its part, in 2012 received a 100 percent rating on the annual Human Rights Corporation Corporate Equality Index.
Noting Sodexo to be an LGBT-friendly company with access to different licensees, Savage suggested Sodexo bring in an alternate partner that "would not make some of our students feel so uncomfortable."
But COD Senior Vice President Thomas Glaser said removing Chick-fil-A from the equation would force the school to reopen its contract talks with Sodexo.
He said Sodexo was aware of the controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A when it approached COD about including it.
"From Sodexo's own perspective, they are comfortable that (Chick-fil-A) is a partner they want to be in business with," Glaser said. "While those issues were raised, we were left with the idea that Sodexo had values that were the same as COD and we felt it was a good partnership for us."
Nancy Svoboda joined Savage and Trustee Dianne McGuire in voting against the contract. Allison O'Donnell, Joseph C. Wozniak, Kathy Hamilton and board Chairman Erin Birt voted in favor.
"Sometimes the position that I take is leave it to the students to decide," Birt said. "It's their dollar to vote for. If there's something they don't want to eat at Chick-fil-A, there is another place for them to eat at. If there are votes here that are controversial, I don't think that it should be interpreted as in support of something or not in support of something."
The board has been discussing the school's nondiscrimination policies and language inclusive to transgender individuals for several months. McGuire noted that discussion and the effort on the part of the college to be as open as possible.
"It's a matter of walking our talk. You say one thing, you do another," McGuire said. "It doesn't ring very true."