KEARNEY, Neb. — Chicken with a side of politics is on the menu at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
A controversy erupted at UNK this month over the possibility of bringing a Chick-fil-A restaurant to the Nebraskan Student Union.
What began as a student survey about new amenities at the union erupted into controversy when the Daily Wire website inaccurately reported that UNK had banned Chick-fil-A from campus because of its CEO’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
Chick-fil-A was a popular choice in the email survey of students, with 722 of 1,222 choosing it over other options.
According to UNK, the controversy arose when students contacted UNK Student Body President Evan Calhoun with concerns about Chick-fil-A’s corporate ideals.
The student government then decided “to re-evaluate and see if Chick-fil-A was, indeed, what was best for campus and the union food court,” said Todd Gottula, UNK director of news and internal communications.
Gottula emphasized that Chick-fil-A has not been banned from campus. He added that there are no guarantees that a Chick-fil-A franchise is even an option. It was merely one that students were interested in.
Calhoun said the intent of the survey was to revitalize the student union.
“The union looks like a ghost town. There are not a lot of people in there,” Calhoun said.
Chick-fil-A attracted controversy in 2012 when Chief Operating Officer and President Dan Cathy spoke out against same-sex marriage. Chick-fil-A made donations to groups in opposition to same-sex marriage, including the Family Research Council.
“When we learned more about Chick-fil-A and its corporate values and discriminatory policies, and after hearing these concerns raised by a section of our student body, we concluded that these corporate values are not aligned with our values as a student body, and it is not in the best interest of our UNK community to pursue Chick-fil-A right now,” Calhoun said in an email to the UNK student body, which he said was drafted by UNK administration.
A second survey was included in the Feb. 12 email, which replaced Chick-fil-A with Raising Cane’s, another chain restaurant that serves chicken. In that survey, 670 of 985 respondents chose Raising Cane’s over other options.
In a public forum last week, students and administrators talked for about an hour about the controversy.
Jon Watts, director of business services at UNK, said it will cost between $200,000 and $500,000 to bring a new restaurant to the student union.
He added that other concerns drive the selection of a new restaurant, including whether the franchise is interested, royalties, sales and space requirements.
Watts also assured students that Chick-fil-A would receive fair treatment in the vetting process for a restaurant franchise.
Kelly Bartling, UNK vice chancellor for communications and community relations, previously said UNK would begin with students’ top choices when deciding which restaurant to try to bring to campus.
UNK’s business services department is moving forward with plans to acquire a new restaurant for the union. Restaurants being considered are Chick-fil-A, Raising Cane’s, Panda Express, IHOP, A&W, Sbarro and Johnny Rockets.
No timetable has been set, but a restaurant would be added after future renovations to the second floor and west end of the student union.
Current dining options in the union are The Market27th, Lantern Asian Cuisine, Rustic Range Burgers & Fries, Red Mango, Subway and Starbucks.
Attempts to reach Chick-fil-A to see if it is interested in opening a franchise at UNK were unsuccessful.