After the Westminster decision was announced, all those against the merger breathed a sigh of relief. They called it a victory, as the choir college was allowed to remain in Princeton. Students and staff from the Lawrenceville campus also shared in their satisfaction. Some members of the Westminster community even expressed happiness at the idea of being detached from Rider.
However, while many may view the decision to look for a third-party institution to purchase Westminster as an overall win, it only is a triumph when looking at the feelings of those who were adamantly against the merger. In terms of the financial futures of both the Lawrenceville and Princeton campuses, there is still lingering uncertainty.
Looking at the Lawrenceville campus, Rider is facing a projected $13.1 million deficit for the 2017 fiscal year. At this moment, there are two empty residence halls on the Lawrenceville campus and enrollment is down. There needs to be a financial solution to the economic crisis that has befallen the university.
However, selling the Westminster campus to another institution is not a satisfactory or long-term financial solution. This plan is shrouded in uncertainty, as we do not know what institution will purchase the choir college, for how much or what that will even mean for Westminster’s existing programs. This leaves the financial situation for both campuses entirely up to chance.
In addition, this decision provides a short-term solution, as we will sell Westminster for a financial sum and then will save money by no longer funding that campus’s operations. However, these quick resolutions may not be enough to offset a $13.1 million deficit.
Rider requires a plan that will guarantee a steady flow of profit that can stably sustain the university over time. This means that the administrations will once again have to direct time, attention and funding toward developing a more comprehensive plan anyway.
Losing Westminster also means losing the prestige that comes from its world-renowned music program. Rider is an esteemed university in its own right, but having a globally-recognized arts program certainly helps our name.
Since Rider would be selling some of its best programs when selling Westminster, the rest of the academic curriculum will need to be bolstered to compensate for this loss. We would have to spend the necessary money and devote our attention to improving all academic aspects of the university by ensuring that we hire the most-skilled professors, implement high-standard curriculums and provide access to up-to-date, beneficial technology.
All of this uncertainty also affects Westminster’s future, as well. There is no guarantee that the college will avoid a one-campus model at the next institution. There is also no certainty that the buyer will adequately sustain their programs, or that another financial situation will not arise that may result in the loss of Westminster. This decision separates Rider and Westminster, but also sends the latter off to an unknown future and unknown destination.
It should also be remembered that this can yield a negative impact on enrollment as well. Performing arts students will be driven away without Westminster as part of Rider’s currently strong arts programs.
This isn’t to say that considering the sentiments and disagreements of the many students, alumni and faculty was not important to reaching a decision regarding the merger. Over the past few months, tensions across both campuses have risen as a result of this pending campus unification. This only seemed to deepen the rift between parties such as the administration and the faculty, students who supported the merger and students who did not, and those making the decision and those who screamed for their voices to be heard.
The resolution reached mediates the feelings of these parties. It also implies that Dell’Omo and the Board of Trustees listened to the protests, the petitions and the songs. In this way, the administration extended an offer of solidarity and understanding to a community that felt they wouldn’t receive any.
However, while this was a good decision for the emotional state of members of this community, it still leaves the financial ground for both campuses unstable and shaky. Selling Westminster may not wholly benefit the choir college. This action is also a short-term fix to Rider’s deep deficit, which begs for long-term financial commitments.
When making the hardest decisions regarding this university, it is crucial that Dell’Omo and the administration keep their ears open and listen to the voices of all members of this community. Reconciling the loud concerns from a large group of opponents is important.
However, this whole idea of a merger and the ultimate decision was triggered by monetary concerns for this university. When facing a deficit on this scale and making changes this severe to the campus culture, considering the feelings is vital but so is considering the finances.
The weekly editorial expresses the majority opinion of The Rider News. This week’s editorial was written by the Opinion Editor, Samantha Sawh
Printed in the 3/29/17 issue.