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A dean at New Jersey’s Rider University has resigned her position in protest of the school’s decision to block a Chick-fil-A restaurant from coming to campus, reports NJ Advance Media.
Cynthia Newman, the former dean of the College of Business Administration, announced her plans to resign in February, citing language in Rider’s decision that she felt were attacks on her personal religious beliefs as a Christian. Newman will continue to be employed at the university as a professor, and will resume teaching in the fall.
Last year, students at the university voted for Chick-fil-A as their top choice for a new restaurant on campus. But in the fall of 2018, Rider sent out another survey excluding the restaurant chain — a decision that university officials claim was “based on the company’s record widely perceived to be in opposition to the LGBTQ community.”
“Ultimately, we decided to lean in the direction of creating a welcoming environment where differences can be appreciated and where each individual can expect to experience dignity and respect,” administrators wrote in a November 2018 email to students and faculty explaining the decision. “In many ways, this issue is one that goes beyond our decision and touches on a complex conversation taking place throughout the country.”
That email also said the restaurant’s corporate values “have not sufficiently progressed enough to align with those of Rider.”
Following Rider’s November announcement, Chick-fil-A issued a statement saying it would prefer not to engage in political debates.
“We have no policy against any group, and we do not have a political or social agenda,” the statement read. “More than 120,000 people from different backgrounds and beliefs represent the Chick-fil-A brand.”
Chick-fil-A has often served as a flashpoint in the cultural wars and ongoing debates over LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage. The company lacks an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policy, and earned a zero on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.
In 2012, the company’s CEO, Dan Cathy, expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage, which prompted LGBTQ activists to boycott the company. At the time, there were also reports that Chick-fil-A had contributed millions of dollars to right-wing groups such as the now-defunct Exodus International, which promoted conversion therapy, and the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group that opposes recognition or expansion of LGBTQ rights.
Cathy eventually promised to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ causes, but in 2015, donated $1 million to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which requires representatives, staff, and adult leaders to sign and abide by a purity pledge that condemns “homosexual acts.”
While the initial decision to block Chick-fil-A was met with criticism by many students, it was the email saying that Chick-fil-A’s values did not align with the university’s that offended Newman, a self-professed Christian.
“I felt like I had been punched in the stomach when I read that statement because I’m a very committed Christian,” she said in a video interview with Campus Reform, a conservative blog aimed at pushing back against liberal orthodoxy on college campuses, which was the first to report Newman’s resignation.
“Chick-fil-A’s corporate purpose statement is to glorify God, to be faithful stewards of all that’s entrusted to them and have a positive influence on everyone who comes into contact with them,” Newman added. “And I would say that mirrors my personal beliefs perfectly.”
Newman claimed she reached out to university officials to ask for an apology for the offending statement, but one was never issued. She also bristled at the school’s distribution of talking points to faculty and staff relating to the university’s decision. After months of back-and-forth dialogue with the university, she eventually made a decision to resign her position as dean.
“I couldn’t put myself in a situation where I would in any way be seen complicit when an affront to my Christian values had been made,” Newman said. “…No one group’s opinions, values or beliefs should be elevated over anyone else’s. We should be able to respectfully disagree when it comes to values and ideologies.”
The university contends that its decision is not an attack on Christians or their religious beliefs.
“While we respect Dr. Newman’s personal decision, we maintain that the decision about choosing an on-campus restaurant franchise was in no way a judgment on religious values,” Kristine Brown, Rider University’s associate vice president of marketing and communications, said in a statement to NJ Advance Media. “Rather, our intention was to foster a sense of respect and belonging of all members of the campus community, including those who identify as LGBTQ+.”
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