Lack of progress on Westminster lawsuits leaves plaintiff frustrated
By Shaun Chornobroff
After appealing the court’s decision to dismiss lawsuits filed against Rider over the Westminster Choir College’s transition from Princeton to Rider’s Lawrenceville campus, the Westminster Foundation, a group made up of alumni and faculty, is still awaiting a date for oral arguments more than two years later.
Two lawsuits were filed by the Westminster Foundation on behalf of Westminster Choir College (WCC) students and alumni, but in March 2020, the New Jersey Superior Court granted Rider’s motion to dismiss them. Since then, the Westminster community has anxiously awaited the chance to present its argument to the appellate courts.
Constance Fee, president of the Westminster Foundation, said she is “flabbergasted” at the long delay for a court date.
“We are maintaining our position. … It’s frustrating not to have any news to share. I wish there was something, but we just wait,” Fee said, disappointedly.
Rider’s Associate Vice President for University Marketing and Communications Kristine Brown said the lawsuits “could continue for some time.”
“Rather than litigating, which only serves to hurt Westminster Choir College’s future success, we believe everyone’s resources and energy would be better directed at rebuilding Westminster’s enrollments, strengthening its reputation and encouraging the program synergies that are possible on the Lawrenceville campus,” Brown said in an email to The Rider News.
As the wait for a conclusion on both Westminster lawsuits wages on, the Princeton campus that used to house WCC remains unsold. While the campus is not being marketed as for sale, according to Brown there are many parties interested in acquiring the campus.
“We won’t speculate about a sale price, but we believe 23 acres of property in Princeton is valuable,” said Brown.
“Rider is taking many steps to solidify its financial position. Although those efforts are not predicated on selling the Princeton campus, sale of the property would be helpful not just for the sale proceeds, but to end the substantial expense the university incurs for basic operation and maintenance of that property,” Brown said.
Rider Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer Jim Hartman estimated that maintaining the Princeton campus costs the university $1.2 million per year.
In addition to the lawsuits filed by the Westminster students and alumni, the school is also subject to a lawsuit from the Princeton Theological Seminary.
The seminary argues it has a beneficiary right toward the campus and accuses Rider of violating an agreement made between the university and the Princeton Theological Seminary when Rider acquired Westminster in 1992.
Brown said both the university and seminary have filed motions for summary judgment and the next step in the judicial process for the Princeton Theological Seminary lawsuit is oral arguments.
Rider recently announced it intends to make WCC a member of the school’s new College of Arts and Sciences and Brown affirmed that WCC remains an important component of the new college.
Despite much controversy surrounding Westminster’s assimilation onto the Lawrenceville campus, Fee remains hopeful the school will continue to carry itself into the Rider community.
“I hope it will; I can’t say that I have confidence that it will, but I have hope, and we can’t really count on anything going one way or another right now,” Fee said. “We just have to wait and see how things evolve.”