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What's the Matter, Chicken?

Did you know that the recent dustup over Chick-fil-A in the broader culture had its preview in the onsite world of college foodservice? The first rumblings of the issue, at least that we heard of, occurred about a year and a half ago at Indiana University in South Bend. There, the students thought they forced the ouster of the onsite Chick-fil-A unit for being politically incorrect on gay rights until the school president stepped in to reassert university values on “nondiscrimination and diversity” (and perhaps also the convenient availability of delicious chicken sandwiches).

More recently, the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, the University of West Virginia, New York University, Boise State University and undoubtedly a number of other schools as well have seen students and faculty square off with administrators over the presence of the chicken chain on campus. By and large, the former believed they had the moral high ground, the latter the legal one.

That legal argument includes the law of contracts, which means that in the absence of some violation on the part of Chick-fil-A, there is little a school can do to force it off campus before the deal runs its course or an opt out point is reached. No amount of picketing and petition signing can change that.

But perhaps even more compelling is the notion that public officials and public institutions shouldn't have the right to enforce a particular ideological stance in the awarding of public contracts and permits, and you don’t have to agree with Chick-fil-A to make that case. Were a public university to bar Ben & Jerry's, say, from campus solely because of its owners' liberal politics, we would all be rightly outraged. How is the Chick-fil-A situation any different?

While private institutions are freer to indulge their ideologies than public ones, they also might want to keep an eye on the line where principle degenerates into intolerance.

A long time ago, I learned one of the most basic lessons of my civic education, which was that the cure for free speech is more free speech, not less. We might want to keep that in mind...

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