Letter to the Editor: WCC professor believes Dell’Omo has failed

To the editor:

Historically, stewards were trusted servants who managed an owner’s estate. Today’s nonprofit universities have no owners. Instead they have stakeholders — students, alumni, employees and their communities. It’s to these stakeholders university stewards are morally obligated.

The stewards of New Jersey’s world-renowned Westminster Choir College (WCC) are Rider University President Gregory Dell’Omo and the Board of Trustees. Recently, they signed a non-binding term sheet to sell Westminster for $40 million. The buyer, Kaiwen Education Technology, is a for-profit corporation. For less than two years, it has run two Beijing high schools. Stakeholders are astonished Kaiwen has no higher-education experience. 

Is this good stewardship?

After Rider announced it would “sell” WCC, stewards changed the wording to “divest itself of Westminster.” Stakeholders cringed at the euphemism because “divest” means to deprive someone of her rights, power or possessions — literally to remove her garments. 

Throughout the secretive process of 

finding a buyer — itself antithetical to the principles of higher education — WCC’s stewards frequently relied on sexually exploitative language. The day he announced the buyer’s name, Dell’Omo exclaimed, “This is such virgin territory,” speaking to the Westminster community, “This is a seminal moment.” Faculty layoff notices read, if “the transaction is not consummated, it may be necessary to transition to closure.” Yes, “consummate,” meaning “to make a marriage complete by having sexual intercourse,” a message delivered as the #MeToo movement saturated daily headlines.

WCC — America’s first cultural ambassador to the Soviet Union, creator of the term “minister of music,” the school whose students sang in Disney’s iconic “Fantasia” — in the eyes of her stewards, appears as a virgin bride they have a right to strip and sell.

Is this good stewardship?

Dell’Omo claims Kaiwen’s $40 million offer indicates it “has the resources to invest in Westminster and is committed to its long-term viability.” Does willingness to pay mean a buyer has the ability to be a good steward?

Dell’Omo states “Westminster isn’t a major drain on Rider’s overall finances,” though it can run deficits. Yet, with this transaction, Kaiwen expects to enhance the prospects of its own for-profit business.

To Gerald Klein, professor emeritus of organizational behavior and management, Dell’Omo’s assessment doesn’t compute. 

“When I analyzed Kaiwen’s performance, I found the company lost $15 million in 2016 and that it has an extraordinarily high debt-to-equity ratio — 37.50. While  this ratio will vary by industry, a ratio of .50 or .60 would be prudent for most companies.” 

According to Investopedia, the general consensus is that it should not be above 2.

“Kaiwen’s cash ratio is only .68,” Klein continued, “which means its current liabilities significantly exceed the company’s ability to cover them with its cash or cash equivalents, like bonds.” A cash ratio lower than 1 does indicate a company is having financial difficulty. Klein added, “Based on my analysis of the data presented, Kaiwen is one precarious company.”

Is this good stewardship?

To compensate for Kaiwen’s inexperience, Dean of Westminster College of the Arts Marshall Onofrio recommended the company hire two higher-ed consultants. A Google search using the name of one — “Catherine Jarjisian” — produces first a link, “A History of Sexual Harassment at UConn’s Music Department.”

The Rider News revealed Jarjisian allegedly concealed evidence warning of a child molester in her former department. Jarjisian’s statement to The Rider News, “At no time before or after was I accused of any wrongdoing” is directly contradicted on page 14 of the report of the special counsel appointed by the Connecticut attorney general who investigated the matter.

Is any of this good stewardship? I think not. 

To the contrary, WCC’s stewards — Dell’Omo and the Board of Trustees — have failed their stakeholders, choosing instead to act as if they’re the owners of a feudal estate to dispense with as they please.

— Joel Phillips 

Professor of composition and music theory 

Printed in the 4/4/18 issue. 

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