From the Editor: A Rider News interview with President Dell’Omo sparks worry for Westminster
After months of discussing an unnamed buyer for Westminster Choir College (WCC), President Gregory Dell’Omo announced in an email to the university community on Feb. 21 that Rider signed a non-binding contract with Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co., Ltd.
In an interview Monday with Rider News reporters, Dell’Omo seemed uninterested in the future of WCC and the legacy of its profound music programs when discussing the buyer and its previous successes, or lack thereof. While he seemed to understand Kaiwen’s history and the questions posed in regard to it, he refused to comment on several issues, including the recent name change and devaluation of the company, curtly responding, “You’ll have to ask them.”
As a whole, The Rider News staff is troubled by the apathy the administration has shown for the continuation of Westminster.
Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co., Ltd. was primarily a construction company before switching its name to that of an education organization on Dec. 28, 2017, but Rider has been in talks with Kaiwen since August 2017. The Board of Trustees knew that this organization that would likely be taking over WCC was previously a construction company, but Dell’Omo expressed that the board felt that the resources that were presented fit the continuation of the Westminster legacy.
In Kaiwen’s stocks listed on Bloomberg Markets, the description of the company currently reads, “Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure Company Limited constructs steel bridges. The company’s main services include manufactures, transports and installs steel bridges, provides corresponding technical studies, design and technical services.”
Since the organization opened its first schools in August 2016, its stock value has dropped by approximately 35 percent. On its website, there is no evidence of higher education faculty or curriculum.
This does not sound like a company which has years of experience in higher music education or should be left to run such an institution.
When a Rider News reporter expressed this skepticism, Dell’Omo said Kaiwen has been involved in education for a while and is now dedicated to putting resources toward this sector. Dell’Omo did not know why the company switched their focus from construction to education and did not want to speak on its behalf.
“We look at their other two institutions, K through 12 organizations,” he said. “When you look at the people they work with and the partners they have and so forth, they work with the best and most talented in those respective fields.”
In the Feb. 21 announcement about the contract, it was also stated that Kaiwen hired Catherine Jarjisian as an accreditation consultant based on a recommendation by WCC.
In an independent Special Counsel report commissioned by Connecticut’s attorney general, Jarjisian was singled out for criticism for allegedly hiding an anonymous letter which reported a professor was previously suspected of child molestation and sexual misconduct. Jarjisian, the report further found, failed to report the letter to appropriate University of Connecticut officials when she was the head of the department of music there.
The investigative report done by Drinker Biddle & Reath, a law firm hired by the attorney general of Connecticut, stated that Jarjisian followed a dean’s instructions to hide the letter containing accusations of sexual abuse at a children’s camp. Furthermore, the report found Jarjisian’s “failure to report the letter to anyone else for a period of 14 months —whether or not at the direction of [the dean] — put minors on campus and university students at further risk.”
When Dell’Omo was questioned about the allegations and pointed criticisms of Jarjisian’s actions as an administrator, he refused to comment.
Dell’Omo said that she was chosen for the consultant position because administrators at Westminster have worked with her in the past, and he understands that she is “highly experienced in music accreditation” and seemed like a “natural fit” for the position.
Clearly Dell’Omo has been battered in recent months by lawsuits opposing the sale and vehement criticism from the faculty union. However, his unwillingness to engage at this critical juncture exhibits either a lack of knowledge about either Kaiwen or Jarjisian’s past conduct, or a lack of enthusiasm for the buyer and one of the individuals hired to lead WCC’s future under Kaiwen.
In the past, the Board of Trustees along with Dell’Omo were extremely open to discussing the future of WCC with parents, students and faculty to ensure that the legacy and quality education of the school would be maintained, but now the business process seems to be overshadowing the most important parts of Westminster — the music and the students.
Rider is selling Westminster to Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co., Ltd. for $40 million, and in return giving approximately $20 million of WCC’s endowment as part of the deal, according to Rider’s press release.
There is a lack of confidence that the legacy of WCC will be continued and will not be plowed over as a valuable tourist area in Princeton once sold. The importance of music education and the worldwide recognition of the school should not be overlooked and should be passed on with care. Our administration and the Board of Trustees should know the ins and outs of the organization buying Westminster and what they intend to do to the college. It should be more than just about how many zeros are behind the dollar sign.
The weekly editorial expresses the majority opinion of The Rider News. This week’s editorial was written by the opinion editor, Hayley Fahey.
Printed in the 2/28/18 issue.