By Gerald D. Klein
The decision by Rider’s administration to rescind the promise made to the Westminster community to continue to hold commencement ceremonies in Princeton through 2023 is significant for two reasons.
First, this message reveals that Rider’s central administration remains either tone-deaf to, or treats as a lower priority, the feelings of many in the Westminster community. The announcement reveals people who are out of touch; it alienates rather than unifies. One wonders if any in the administration spoke out against this decision.
Just this academic year the frustrations of Westminster students with the inadequacies of their hastily-constructed facilities culminated in a well-publicized petition presented to the president and his administration. Many believe that the construction of those facilities was, one, entirely unnecessary, and two, with other pressing needs, a surprisingly unwise expenditure of scarce Rider dollars in the midst of a revenue-sapping pandemic.
A reply to the petition by President Dell’Omo was criticized by the petition organizers and others as unsatisfactory, defensive and dismissive. Many, many months later there are conditions cited in the petition that remain to be addressed, according to an April 13 Rider News story.
The transition of Westminster to Lawrenceville was an undertaking that had to be successful, and President Dell’Omo is ultimately responsible for its shortcomings.
A second reason why the announcement is significant is because the ceremony’s cost is mentioned as a reason for terminating the Princeton commencement after this year.
It’s revealed here that Rider will continue to experience revenue issues through 2023 – the eighth year of this president’s tenure. As recently as last week, the president cited continuing problems with student enrollment in a town hall meeting with Rider’s Student Government Association.
With a second and overwhelming 86% vote of no-confidence and a resolution and rally calling for the president’s replacement, the faculty have indicated for the first time in Rider’s history that it does not believe Rider’s current president and his team have the ability to create financial stability for the University – to “turn things around,” in the recent words of the president. Achieving financial stability is vital for students and all associated with the University, and for Rider University’s very future.
The president and his team have had many years to achieve this and have failed, and absolutely nothing has been communicated by this administration about the future except the desire to cut costs. What follows that? They have borrowed to the hilt — to the University’s limit — and built it, and they have not come.
In the five pre-pandemic years of this president’s tenure, similar regional universities were notching enrollment and net revenue increases while Rider was notching losses. Rider now carries a lower Moody’s bond rating – that is, is most risky as a borrower – than any other university in this region rated by the company. Moody’s continues to assign a “negative outlook” for Rider.
The members of Rider’s Board of Trustees need to reflect on this history and take action. As they well know, and as any issue of The Wall Street Journal reveals, organizations quickly replace executives that aren’t meeting targets and getting the job done. It is well past time for the Board, as the designated stewards of the university, to move quickly and select a new leadership team, one more eager and able to compete effectively with other regional institutions, effectively promoting Rider in many student-rich geographical markets. Rider’s competitors, large and small, are doing this today.
Gerald D. Klein
Emeritus professor of organizational behavior and management