WCC sale decision lingers on the horizon

By Shanna O’Mara

As the Rider administration continues to ask for faculty concessions and weighs the possibility of selling the Princeton campus, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) will vote on a motion of no-confidence against President Gregory Dell’Omo and the administration on March 7.

President Gregory Dell’Omo has been recently holding meetings with groups of Westminster Choir College (WCC) faculty and students to discuss the proposed sale of the campus, and associate voice professor Thomas Faracco reported that “the faculty spoke passionately and pointedly about the negative outcomes of moving the campus to Lawrenceville.”

Faracco wrote in his account of the February meeting on the Save Westminster Choir College Facebook page: “He listened to it all but kept reiterating that it’s a financial decision. I assured him that if the college was moved to Rider, most of the alumni support, both financially and in student recruitment would be lost, and there would certainly be an enrollment decline.”

University spokesperson Kristine Brown said, “We know that the Choir College is a special place, and that students, faculty, alumni and members of the community are uniquely suited to share that perspective. From the outset, the university has been transparent about its challenges in both the short- and long-term. As Faracco notes, President Dell’Omo has met, and continues to meet, with Westminster students and faculty to answer questions and to provide periodic updates on the board’s progress.”

The estimated value of the Princeton campus could be as high as $60 million, Faracco wrote, “much higher than any other time it was studied.”

Some faculty members see worth in exploring this option, an option which may contribute to the long-term financial health of the university.

“If opportunities then arise from the sale of Westminster to position the institution for the future, I’m convinced that this is the guy who will actually do it,” said James Riggs, professor of science.

Riggs also credits Dell’Omo for his transparency throughout this process.

“He’s not being secretive about it,” he said. “He’s airing some dirty laundry. There has been some negative press. The students should be upset. The Westminster faculty should be upset. I would be, too, but I think he’s making business decisions for all of Rider in terms of the long-term.”

The board has been meeting to evaluate the study and expects to make a decision in a few weeks, Brown said.

“Our goal has remained the same: explore all avenues and options to ensure a sustainable future for Rider University as a whole,” Brown said.

The hope for a sustainable future, however, may dwindle if the campuses merge, according to Faracco.

“There would certainly be an enrollment decline which would affect the choirs and perhaps the orchestral associations which are such a crucial part of the Westminster experience and sets the school apart from other colleges and universities,” he said.

Faracco also worries that if the campuses merged, WCC students would be “scattered across the [Lawrenceville] campus wherever unused classrooms can be found, with very little thought to what kind of facilities our program needs.”

In his account of the February meeting with Dell’Omo, Faracco wrote: “It was clear in the meeting that there will be no major building project to house us [at Lawrenceville].”

Gerald Metz, a 1970 graduate of WCC, pointed out at a Feb. 7 town forum that the eight WCC choirs need ample space to rehearse, space that he said isn’t available on the Lawrenceville campus.

“A ballroom won’t do,” Metz wrote on the page the following day. “A gymnasium won’t do. Musicians need to be able to hear each other from across the room. Westminster’s voice, piano and organ faculty need teaching studios, and their 450 students need practice rooms. Rider doesn’t have these things, and clearly has no plans [or] money to build them.”

While the board continues to meet and discuss the plan, members of the Rider community wait for a decision set to be announced this spring.

“We appreciate the thoughtful input and recommendations put forward thus far and look forward to sharing more information from the board at the appropriate time,” Brown said.

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