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University threatens to discipline students who work or eat at Hooters

Won’t even rule out expulsion

It’s an affront to feminism! Or … Jesus?

Abilene Christian University issued a veiled threat to students who are considering applying for work – or just eating – at a Hooters location opening next week, according to KTXS.

The message from the Churches of Christ-affiliated school seems to be that it will find out if students go to this den of sin a stone’s throw down the road, so get ready for the worst possible outcome:

[I]n a written statement to KTXS, a spokesperson said “we have asked students to consider both what Hooters represents and whether that is something they really want to support in terms of both their faith and the value this business model places on women.”

KTXS asked the spokesperson if a student could be expelled if they choose to work at Hooters. We also asked if a male student would face discipline if they chose to eat, drink beer or watch a game at Hooters.

“All situations would be handled case-by-case. That’s the information I have for now,” the spokesperson said.

Abilene Christian cites its university handbook as the grounding for its warning to students. Like those at many evangelical institutions, this handbook gives it broad leeway to punish students who don’t “make decisions that ultimately glorify God,” subject to the whims of administrators.

Its spokesperson confirms just how subjective this standard is, telling KTXS that students will be called to account for their employment and dining habits if “the university felt they were not upholding the standards in the handbook.”

Abilene Christian’s cheerleaders show plenty of skin, including several inches above the knee, for the visual gratification of fans. The main difference between their outfit and Hooters’ is the neckline is a couple inches higher on the former, though even Hooters’ uniforms show minimal cleavage.

MORE: Churches of Christ college removes Christopher Columbus statue

The school has good reason to fear this new location could tempt its students:

In a promotional video about Hooters Girls, which the chain refers to as American icons, one girl says “we have a really flexible schedule if you are in school.”

The video also touts that they offer tuition assistance [$3.1 million so far].

“I love that my management works around my school schedule. Being able to come in to work every day and not stress about a test …. is a really great thing,” another Hooters Girl said.

KTXS is actually following up on month-old reporting by ACU’s student newspaper The Optimist, which claims without attribution that Hooters is “known for sexualizing its servers.”

The story appears to be little more than proactive propaganda for the administration. The Optimist says it asked the administration for comment on the new Hooters, with no indication that the university expressed any view before The Optimist asked.

The newspaper informs its student readers that they agreed to the unbounded discretion of administrators over all parts of their lives – backed by Vice President for Student Life Chris Riley’s guilt-trip language “followers of Jesus” – when they enrolled at ACU.

MORE: Abilene Christian gives thumbs-up to president divorcing his wife

Riley says the school’s view is backed up by a 2004 federal court decision from Orlando that found “the Hooters Girl’s predominant function is to provide vicarious sexual recreation.”

Hooters had filed a lawsuit against another restaurant chain alleging that it infringed Hooters’ “trade dress,” a form of intellectual property:

[W]ithout the Hooters Girl, there would be no Hooters. And what distinguishes the Hooters Girl from other sports bar and grill servers is her distinctive uniform, consisting of a white tank top shirt prominently featuring the Hooters name and “owl” logo across her chest, and orange nylon running shorts.

But these servers are “primarily functional,” so their uniforms can’t be legally protected:

Rather, Hooters has admitted that the Hooters Girl’s predominant function is to provide vicarious sexual recreation, to titillate, entice, and arouse male customers’ fantasies [no citation given]. …

Even if the Hooters Girl were not primarily functional, her status as trade dress derives
from her distinctive orange and white uniform. Hooters simply cannot prevent a competitor from using a server outfit as different as a black tank top and black running shorts.

It appears The Optimist reprinted this strange justification by the administration – one out-of-state, out-of-circuit court ruling about the reach of Hooters’ intellectual property – to counter the city’s justification for giving the restaurant a permit, which is that its servers are “fully clothed.”

No matter for VP Riley, who claims that by working at Hooters, students affirm the chain’s employees are “products” rather than people.

You could make the same claim about Abilene Christian, which sees its students as revenue-generating products with no agency of their own.

Read the KTXS story and Optimist report.

MORE: Abilene Christian has one of the highest average debt loads

h/t Inside Higher Ed

IMAGE: fitzcrittle/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” Previously he led media and public relations at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, a free-market think tank. Greg is developing a Web series about a college newspaper, COPY, whose pilot episode was a semifinalist in the TV category for the Scriptapalooza competition in 2012. He graduated in 2001 with a B.A. from Seattle Pacific University, where he co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon.

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