By Megan Lupo
Many professors were angered at this week’s Westminster Choir College (WCC) faculty layoffs and lack of job offers from Kaiwen Education, announced by Rider administrators during a faculty meeting at the Princeton campus on Oct. 29.
Joined by Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs DonnaJean Fredeen and Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel Mark Solomon, Westminster Choir College Acquisition Corporation (WCCAC) Interim President Larry Livingston and President Gregory Dell’Omo addressed concerns with assurance that “both Rider and WCCAC is wholeheartedly committed to the future of Westminster,” according to Associate Vice President for University Marketing and Communications Kristine Brown.
Brown said Dell’Omo explained that the contractually-obligated layoff notices for Westminster faculty will be administered by the university on Oct. 30.
Joel Phillips, professor of music theory and composition, said Dell’Omo’s announcements were met with a chilly reception from the 20 to 25 full and part-time faculty who attended the meeting.
Livingston further clarified the layoff situation by mentioning that, along with the notices, that intended future offers of employment by WCCAC are dependent on the outcome of lawsuits,, according to Brown.
Brown said multiple lawsuits filed by WCC parents, students, the Princeton Theological Seminary and Westminster Foundation hindered the process of immediate employment offers from Kaiwen and WCCAC.
“WCCAC was compelled to delay issuing its planned offer letters at this time,” Brown said. “Mr. Livingston said he believed the university and WCCAC would ultimately prevail in theses suits, but the timeframe remains unclear.”
Phillips said that the offers of employment were previously promised to the WCC faculty.
American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Chief Grievance Officer Jeffrey Halpern said, “In the actual sale agreement, the pledge is to offer two years of employment for full-time faculty. They will offer one year for adjunct faculty, which is slightly better than semester by semester.”
Brown said that the administration reiterated in the meeting that there was a contract between the buying partner and the university and Board of Trustees that all parties were committed to, but if the deal with Kaiwen did fall through, the Board had authorization to close down WCC and begin a phased teach-out.
According to Associate Professor of Voice Thomas Faracco, this statement went against what was explained to him the previous night before by Dean of the Westminster College of the Arts Marshall Onofrio.
“The administration made the faculty believe that they would close down the school before that if the deal was not signed by June of 2019. On Sunday night, Dean Onofrio met with the Westminster Alumni Council via a conference call. Questions were sent to him in advance, one of which had to do with the council’s concern about enrollment with the future of the college uncertain,” Faracco said. “He said at the worst, all current students and any student who begins next fall will be guaranteed a Westminster degree.”
After Dell’Omo and Livingston discussed their updates, they opened the floor to the faculty so any questions or issues related to the future of the transition can be answered, much to the dismay of Phillips.
“After living through the last two years of our senior administration’s incompetence and lies, Westminster faculty were completely unsurprised by the receipt of layoff notices and the news that Kaiwen will not be making offers of employment,” Phillips said. “It was pitiful to hear people who have all the power claim that we faculty are holding them hostage because of lawsuits over which we have no control. Frankly, I cannot choose between the terms gaslighting or victim blaming, but I can say that they manufactured this crisis [of poor administrative leadership] and they have the power to stop it.”
Despite Dell’Omo and Livingston asking for faculty and staff support in moving forward with the sale of WCC to Kaiwen, Professor of Voice Elem Eley said he was not inspired to do so due to the administration’s lack of communicative efforts.
“It’s the transparency of the administration’s strategy toward the faculty that is most appalling to me,” Eley said. “Ironically, the cloud of misinformation and non-information that has been used on us for nearly two years continues, but the administration’s renewed choice to engage in this way is clear. We have been kept essentially in the dark, and now they are begging us to help.”
Faracco, who noted he intentionally did not attend the meeting due to his belief that the administration will not be relaying new information, said that throughout the entirety of the WCC ordeal, he believed those directly affected were not included or consulted.
Faracco said, “From the beginning of this situation, attempting to consolidate the campuses and programs, to the current deal selling the campus to a for-profit company, the administration has made no sincere attempt to involve the faculty, students and staff in any meaningful way to help with a solution to the supposed Westminster problem.”
According to Phillips, a primary focus of the meeting was the administration’s plea for the faculty to use their authority to terminate the lawsuits, despite the critical responses that these legal proceedings were not their doing.
Eley said, “We are being leveraged to help remove the lawsuits so that the ill-advised sale can move ahead. We are not the parties to the lawsuits. Furthermore, it is Rider that can stop this disastrous plan. In the face of the administration and trustees’ refusal to withdraw, I believe it is the upcoming AAUP arbitration that will end this foolish Kaiwen chapter in the life of Rider University.”
Despite the overwhelming amount of distrust and skepticism from WCC faculty aimed at the administration surrounding the transition, Brown said that “Rider and WCCAC are steadfastly working together to bring this transition to a successful conclusion.”
Additional reporting by Lauren Minore.