By Lauren Lavelle and Megan Lupo
Cynthia Newman, current dean of Rider’s College of Business Administration (CBA), has resigned from her leadership position, stating that her religious views were compromised in the aftermath of the administration’s decision to eliminate Chick-fil-A as a campus dining option.
In November, Rider administration endured national backlash after it decided to reject the possibility of Chick-fil-A becoming a campus restaurant due to its conservative values without student consultation on the decision.
In the text of Newman’s Feb. 14 resignation speech, which she shared with The Rider News, she said she felt that she was “punched in the stomach” over the university’s decision to send out a campus-wide email that stated the administration was removing Chick-fil-A from its on-campus restaurant options due to the restaurant’s corporate values.
Calling herself a “committed follower of Jesus Christ,” Newman’s statement said, “I endeavor every day to do exactly what Chick-fil-A puts forward as its overarching corporate value: to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to me and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with me.”
Unwilling to compromise her faith, Newman said in her speech to CBA faculty and staff that she decided to return to her tenured faculty position on Aug. 31.
Last spring, administrators sent a campus survey asking for student input on potential food places with Chick-fil-A listed. Vice President for Student Affairs Leanna Fenneberg, Vice President for Facilities and University Operations Michael Reca and Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Jan Friedman-Krupnick retracted that option in a Nov. 1 email addressed to the Rider community.
The email stated that administrators “concluded that due to Rider University’s values and goals which explicitly include efforts to promote the inclusion for all people, we are uncomfortable pursuing Chick-fil-A at this time in that their corporate values have not sufficiently progressed enough to align with those of Rider.”
Newman said she addressed the situation with multiple campus leaders including Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs DonnaJean Fredeen, Fenneberg and University President Gregory Dell’Omo and asked for a campus-wide apology email regarding the statement, which she believed did not cater to those of the Christian faith.
“Unfortunately, that did not happen,” Newman said in the text of her speech. “Instead a second email was issued without any type of an apology.”
Newman recently shared the content of her resignation announcement reasoning with Campus Reform, a conservative news website, after being approached by Rider’s Turning Point USA president and junior accounting major Joshua Aminov.
“Joshua Aminov asked me and I have nothing to hide,” Newman said. “The announcement that went out to the university faculty and staff from the provost did not provide a reason for my returning to faculty so this was a way to make the reason more widely known.”
In an email announcement addressed to colleagues on Feb. 14, Fredeen only stated that Newman would return her position on faculty without providing explanation, but mentioned that Newman’s “leadership is rooted in her deep commitment to student success and personal values, and as such, serves as a role model for the University community,” and she will remain as special assistant to the provost for “several strategic initiatives.”
According to Newman’s Campus Reform interview, published March 4, she said she did not plan on addressing her resignation until Rider provided each discipline’s vice president and dean with talking points to use when speaking with individuals upset about Rider’s Chick-fil-A decision.
The talking points encouraged university leaders to discuss Rider’s “openness to different views and beliefs” and the university’s goal to produce “responsible citizens who embrace diversity, support the common good and contribute meaningfully to the changing world in which they live and work.” The points also addressed the fact that many disagreed with Rider’s decision but it was done with “the intent to best promote campus where differences are appreciated, and where members of our community expect to experience dignity and respect.”
In the text of her speech, Newman said, “I, along with other campus leaders, was given a set of talking points about the Chick-fil-A decision that we were to use to respond to those who were critical of the decision,” Newman said in her speech. “I could not, in good conscience as a committed Christian, adhere to those talking points.”
Newman also touched upon her strong sense of faith in her speech and mentioned that, while it was not Rider’s intent to “insult or denigrate” her Christian values, it ultimately did and suggested groups that hold similar values were offended as well.
“[Rider administration] are content, even though they know that they have offended a group of people who hold these values, to not address the offense or the offended,” Newman said in the text of her speech. “I am not willing to compromise my faith and Christian values and I will not be viewed as being in any way complicit when an affront is made to those values.”
Disagreeing with Newman’s statement is fellow Christian and senior musical theater Charley Furey, who said that his initial reaction to the text of Newman’s resignation speech was one of frustration.
In an open letter addressed to Newman, Furey, who was raised Catholic, wrote that Rider’s decision to not pursue Chick-fil-A was not a condemnation on Christianity but “a move to show the LGBTQ+ community on its campus that they are loved and welcomed and embraced, a move which I would argue very much aligns with the Christian values I was raised with.”
Citing a Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network study where four out of five students, who identify as LGBTQ+, reported being harassed excessively at school based on their “appearance or perceived sexual orientation,” Furey countered Newman’s claim of feeling “punched in the stomach” by reinforcing the stigma and discrimination endured by the LGBTQ+ community.
“For you to equivocate your ‘struggle’ to physical pain and violence is shameful considering considering the actual violence and pain the LGBTQ+ community endures on a daily basis,” Furey said. “You don’t truly know what it’s like to feel that punch in your gut, to feel hated, to feel persecuted against. With all due respect, you wouldn’t know persecution if it punched you in the gut.”
Although Newman acknowledged that members of the LGBTQ community derseve to have their voices considered in the decision process, her concern was primarily about the administration’s reasoning behind their decision, regarding Chick-fil-A.
“The LGBTQ community has every right to express their concerns and to have their voice heard and represented during decision making,” Newman said. “As I have said, I have no problem with the University leadership deciding not to bring Chick-fil-A to campus in deference to the LGBTQ community. I do have a problem with University leadership passing judgement on Chick-fil-A’s values which are reflective with the values of the Christian as well as other faiths.”
Understanding that Newman held different beliefs, Furey said he still believed that the University was not being judgemental in their decision and called upon Newman to reflect on her statements.
“If you are truly a committed follower, you will reevaluate how your actions impact those around you, and you will chose love,” Furey said. “You can play the martyr, or you can help the LGBTQ+ community by examining how your words [and] actions affect them. I hope you choose the latter.”
Students of other religious faiths also weighed in on the situation.
“As a person of the Jewish faith, I have different religious views than her [Newman]. I can’t disagree or agree with her statements because I come from a different background with different religious views,” said Alex Solomon, a senior marketing major and president of the Rider College Republicans Club. “I can say, however, that I have had Dean Newman as a professor during this school year and that she is a great professor who truly cares about her students and who had never let her religious or political views be expressed in our class.”
Despite his uncertainty, Solomon supported Newman’s decision to publicly reveal her reason for resignation and was concerned that Rider’s “higher-ups” did give her the answers she asked for.
“Dean Newman was completely justified for sharing her reason for resignation,” Solomon said. “I fully respect and support her decision to stand up for what she believes in and to express her opinion on this situation. I was also disappointed to read that when she sought answers and even an apology from her higher-ups, ‘the school doubled down,’ according to the Campus Reform article.”
Solomon said that, although Rider is a private institution that needed to do what was best for the campus community as a whole, he believed the situation was not handled correctly.
“I believe that Rider handled the decision very poorly, and I also believe that Rider welcomed this flood of outrage,” Solomon said. “There are a large number of valid reasons that Rider could have given for not bringing Chick-fil-A on campus, such as their use of peanut oil, which is a common allergen, or that they don’t open on Sundays, as this would limit students’ food options on the weekend but, instead of these reasons, Rider chose to give the one about their corporate values, welcoming the anger of those who do align with Chick-fil-A’s values.”
Believing that the administration, also, handled the situation inadequately is freshman public relations major Hailey Hensley.
“I don’t agree with the university stance of the decision at all, and it’s not because of religious reasons and it’s not because I’m bisexual,” Hensley said. “Whether or not I agree with the Chick-fil-A decision or not, I understand it, through it was handled incredibly poorly. All could have been avoided very easily by not having it as an option in [in the survey] the first place.”
Although Hensley dissented with the business side of Rider’s handling, she, also, questioned Newman’s personal decision to disclose her reasoning for resigning.
“Her only goal is to stir the pot. She’s not accomplishing anything by going to external media about it,” Hensley said. “I feel regardless of anyone’s opinion on the Chick-fil-A situation what Newman did is unprofessional. There was no reason to talk to media about it. It was an internal problem and should have been dealt with as such, not with external news outlets.”
Hensley expressed her confusion, as to why she decided to step down as dean, but not leave the university entirely, if she was taking a stance against its decision.
“If she really feels strongly about her stance on Chick-fil-A she should remove herself from the payroll,” Hensley said, citing that Rider, being a secular institution, won’t align with a non-secular company. “She’s not making a statement by continuing to work for [Rider University]. She’s still supporting them with her labor; she’s still working for [the administration].”
Kristine Brown, associate vice president for university marketing and communications, said the university is looking forward to having Newman as a member of its faculty and looks forward to her further contributions to Rider.
“We’re pleased that she will remain as a member of the faculty and also continue to play a role on the provost’s leadership team as a special assistant to the provost,” Brown said. “The university thanks Dr. Newman for her many contributions to Rider since assuming the role of dean in 2017.”
Although the administration expressed satisfaction that Newman will continue to teach at the institution, some students were discontent with the prospective.
“I would not feel comfortable having Dr. Newman as a professor. With the attitude that she put off in her video interview, I worry that would reflect in the classroom,” Hensley said.
When asked what she hoped sharing her resignation would achieve, Newman mentioned Rider’s community values.
“I hope that the Rider community will continue to pursue its community values and be a place where all values, opinions and beliefs can be openly discussed, where conflicting perspectives can be voiced with civility and received with respect and where all individuals feel that they are welcome to bring their whole selves to campus.”