Westminster dean gives Q&A guidelines

By Shanna O’Mara

Following the Westminster Choir College (WCC) decision on March 28, faculty members are being prepped for potential questioning about the future of the institution.

On April 6, Dean of Westminster College of the Arts Matthew Shaftel sent an email to the Princeton campus faculty with “a list of Q&As that I hope you will find helpful.”

Attached was a list of 18 questions that students, parents, alumni and others may potentially raise in response to the March 28 decision to sell Westminster as well as written responses to each. Many of the questions center around specific degree requirements, scholarship inquiries, credit transfer concerns, the future of the school and the progress of the board’s study thus far.

Shaftel encouraged faculty members to “keep it general overall,” thank someone for their questions and concerns while giving brief answers and then directing them to rider.edu/thepathforward.

In the case of media inquiries, faculty members were told to “be polite but clear that you cannot speak to them.” Shaftel wrote that all questions should be directed to university spokesperson Kristine Brown and the communications office.

“Reporters may respond by saying their questions aren’t for Rider, they’re for you personally,” the email said. “In that case, you can say: ‘I appreciate your interest, but I don’t wish to answer your questions. Thank you.’ And hang up/walk away.”

Jeffrey Halpern, chief negotiator for Rider’s chapter of the AAUP, responded to Shaftel in an April 10 email. He said members of the AAUP were “very disturbed” by the dean’s requests for WCC faculty members to remain quiet in the face of community confusion, except to recite from “a script provided by the dean and written by the university’s [public relations] firm.”

The email was also sent to the union’s attorney.

“I feel I must remind you that members of the AAUP bargaining unit are protected by academic freedom and may speak to students, parents, prospective students and parents, the media and others as their conscience moves them,” Halpern wrote. “Any action on the part of the university to attempt to muzzle our members will be resisted by the AAUP with all the resources at our disposal.”

James Riggs, professor of science, did not interpret Shaftel’s requests as literally.

“They’re making suggestions,” Riggs said. “It’s a new ball game. How do you handle those questions? [If I were in the position of a WCC faculty member,] I would still want to be able to have the right conversations with those students. I wouldn’t want to do damage to the Westminster brand or the Rider brand. I think it’s logical to provide some of that information.”

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