Letter to the Editor: Professor believes musical bond has been broken

To the editor:

By now the Rider community knows that the upper administration and most of the Board of Trustees intend to divest Rider of Westminster Choir College, which over the last 90 years has touched the souls of millions via its recordings and performances. President Gregory Dell’Omo plans to sell Westminster to a for-profit corporation whose experience with education is limited to running for-profit K-12 schools in Asia. This is most likely the first time a transaction of this nature has been proposed in the history of American academia. The profit motive, rather than education and music, will therefore become the driving force of the acquiring entity.

The decision is heartbreaking. The callousness that accompanied this announcement is breathtaking in its mean spiritness. The layoff letters that were signed by Robert Stoto, associate vice president for human resources, and emailed to each and every Westminster faculty member as PDF attachments (subject – “Attached Letter;” message – none) communicated no sense of gratitude or basic respect for our contributions to the education of Rider students and to the world of music. On the contrary, it was cold and utterly dismissive of our efforts, scholarship and legacy.

This tragic decision, if carried out, may have far-reaching consequences both for WCC and possibly for music conservatories throughout the United States. One may speculate that this divestiture, if successful, may provide a blueprint for other universities with conservatories and boards willing to pursue a similar corporatization of their university. The arts are also almost always the first to be axed.

Rider administration’s financial capabilities seem to be challenged. Instead of doing everything necessary to attract donors, they have now proclaimed to the world their inability to do so. It is the president’s job to attract the top educators and the top administrators, and to nurture and maintain donor contacts whose firm belief in the university’s greatness makes them proud to associate themselves with their financial support. Divesting itself of Westminster, which is one of the greatest institutions of its kind, sends the opposite message — that is a message of mediocrity that is profoundly dis-incentivizing to prospective donors. Additionally, the president is spending the tuition dollars of our students and their families to fight multiple lawsuits and soon, a union grievance, instead of devoting those monies to our primary mission, which is educating Rider’s students.

We never imagined as educators that we would be placed on what amounts to an auction block. And we never thought our students — those at this very university — would be placed on that auction block. Worst of all, we never thought that the harsh and tragic feelings we are now experiencing as a result would come at the hands of people who, until recently, purportedly held the noble profession of education as a sacred calling.

They should be suffering an existential crisis in the most profound depths of their educational souls. For how can they in good conscience offer the Westminster community as a commodity to a financial, not educational, institution while withholding its identity and still teach? Obviously they can’t wear the robes of a teacher, demanding ethical behavior from their own students while simultaneously offering Westminster’s educational and artistic endeavors like store-counter merchandise for whatever the market will bear.

The sacred bond and educational mission to Rider’s students has been broken.

—Dr.Thomas J. Parente

Professor of piano and voice

Printed in the 11/08/17 issue. 

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