By Lauren Lavelle and Lauren Minore
Urgent letters to numerous New Jersey state officials were sent out by Rider’s chapter of the AAUP on Nov. 19 urging them to assist in blocking the anticipated sale of Westminster Choir College (WCC) to Kaiwen Education, a former steel bridge company turned Chinese-run K-12 education system.
The decision to send the letters came about after Kean University announced it would begin recognizing workers overseas at its satellite school, Wenzhou-Kean University, as employees of the Chinese campus and the Chinese government — not the New Jersey-based school— hindering its relationship with a local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.
Jeff Halpern, the AAUP’s chief grievance officer, said that, although Kean’s situation differs from WCC’s, the AAUP wanted to make legislators aware of the Chinese government’s frequent influence over academic freedom.
“We thought that since there had been some indication by legislators that they were going to be looking into this, we wanted to point out to them that there was another situation, not exactly the same, but quite similar,” Halpern said.
The letters outlined the AAUP’s two main concerns about the potential sale of WCC to Kaiwen. They claimed Kaiwen is an unsuitable buyer for the choir school because of its for-profit status and its lack of higher education experience.
“Kaiwen is a for-profit company whose educational business has never earned a profit. A for-profit enterprise’s goal is opposite that of a not-for-profit University,” the letter said. “Kaiwen’s experience in education of any kind is minimal. For only two years, Kaiwen has run two for-profit K-12, non-accredited schools.”
The letter further highlighted the unethical role the Chinese government played in educational freedom and expression for students and educators.
“Chinese influence on U.S. universities has a chilling effect on academic freedom and freedom of expression,” the letter said.
The last point the AUUP addressed was the lack of involvement and transparency from Rider administration toward staff and faculty in the decision to sell WCC.
“Faculty and other stakeholders were denied any meaningful role in Rider’s decision to sell Westminster,” the letter said. “The entire process was cloaked in secrecy.”
Kristine Brown, associate vice president for university marketing and communications, denied the claims that WCC will be stripped of its academic freedom after the anticipated transition.
“The nonprofit corporation that will operate Westminster Choir College after the transition will do so in accordance with all U.S. laws and regulations, and that includes maintaining academic freedom,” Brown said.
Halpern said he remained hopeful that the list of concerns stated in the letter were enough to diminish the completion of the sale.
“The one thing I am reasonably confident about is that this sale is not going to happen,” Halpern said. “There are too many hurdles, too many issues.”
According to Halpern, the AAUP would continue to attempt to protect the integrity of WCC as a not-for-profit choir school as they work to block the sale.
“Our goal is to protect the long-term future of WCC as it exists, not as a for-profit institution, not as a university that lacks academic freedom and not as one whose future is dependent upon a foreign government,” he said.