College of the Arts Faceoff: Is WCC’s identity threatened?

By Anthony Baron

NO: The Westminster College of the Arts (WCA) promises to be the crown jewel in the Rider University community. Already, individuals such as Dean Robert Annis have raved about how WCA is making Rider a more selective institution by raising SAT scores and giving the university an artistic core, augmenting the typical Rider traditions of excellence, such as business, teaching and athletics.

A lot of students are worried about the newly formed WCA, and rightly so. It is a merger of the two campuses that is mired in problems. The Lawrenceville and Westminster campuses are still not communicating efficiently with each other; there is still a “them” vs. “us” attitude filling the halls of both campuses; and there is a sense that this program cannot be good for the identity of Westminster Choir College (WCC).

I think that it’s important to recognize now what the current state of this merger is and where, hopefully, the administration of Rider will take it: Over the next five years or so, a dynamic ecosystem for the arts will emerge that will span the interests and priorities of both campuses.

The creation of WCA affirms the strong presence and priority that not just music, but all arts have and will have in Rider’s present and future existence. It is my hope that with the creation of WCA, the community will see a wider opportunity for academic and artistic collaboration.

WCA also allows for a very timely opportunity for the school to reorganize and carefully examine the needs of each campus, and a better way to administratively fully integrate WCC into the Rider structure. This new WCA structure will allow an administrative reorganization that will help erase some of the confusion students experience when trying to figure out whether an issue can be resolved in Westminster or Lawrenceville. I remember when applying to WCC having to send part of my application to Princeton and another part of it to Lawrenceville. I hope that by the time this merger is complete that is no longer the case.

At the same time, steps need to be taken to make sure this will happen. First and foremost, WCC’s identity must be secured, maintained and enhanced. WCC must be allowed to continue as a vital partner to the WCA, not be replaced by it. For some students, particularly music education or sacred music majors, the industries they hope to enter upon graduation recognize and value the name Westminster Choir College, not Westminster College of the Arts. To suddenly take that name-recognition away would be detrimental to the future of the school as well as these students’ careers. In the creation of WCA, it is absolutely crucial to make sure, as Dean Annis so frequently states, that “Westminster Choir College isn’t going away.”

Rider also has to continue allocating resources towards this merger. The addition of two performing arts buildings (one on each campus) is a great step, but unfortunately not enough. The resources that I speak about are not related necessarily to the physical being of either campus, but rather ways to tie the campuses further together. The most obvious example of this is the continued lack of shuttle service between the campuses. There needs to be a shuttle that, at minimum, runs from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. every day of the week between the campuses, not at an odd assortment of confusing hours on selective days.

But there are other examples of collaboration that need to be explored. There have been small steps this past fall, particularly organized by the Music Theater Department, which included a set of cabarets for charity housed on both the Lawrenceville and Westminster campuses. It is my hope that more events and scenarios where the arts tie the university together will continue well into the future.

If done correctly, the WCA will ultimately become one of the best things for Rider. President Mordechai Rozanski, Dean Annis and many other individuals have a very big responsibility to make sure that this merger does not extinguish WCC, but rather increase the arts’ involvement throughout the whole of Rider. After all, as the concert programs say, isn’t all of Rider, not just WCC, supposed to be where the “arts surround your life”?

Anthony Baron is a sophomore at Westminster Choir College with a major in music theory.

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