Westminster sale canceled, Rider unveils consolidation plan

By Stephen Neukam

A sale agreement for Westminster Choir College (WCC) between Rider University and Kaiwen Education has been canceled by mutual agreement between the two parties, Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo announced July 1.

A written announcement issued by the university detailed an “alternative” plan approved by the Board of Trustees to integrate WCC into Rider’s Lawrenceville campus in September 2020. The university will continue to operate WCC and other programs in Princeton during the 2019-20 academic year, according to the university.

The university also rescinded faculty layoff notices that were provided in October 2018, according to an email from the university.

“Throughout this process, we have continually sought to preserve and enhance Westminster’s legacy as a world-class institution, and we made every effort to maintain the College in Princeton,” Dell’Omo said in a written statement. “Given the enormous complexity of the transaction, it became increasingly clear that partnering with an outside entity, even one as well-intentioned as Kaiwen, was not feasible on a viable timeline.”

According to a stock announcement, Kaiwen’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to terminate the acquisition of WCC on June 28.

The university remained committed to cooperation with Kaiwen, with Rider beginning “conversations with Kaiwen’s leadership regarding meaningful areas for cooperation and collaboration.”

Associate Vice President for University Marketing and Communications Kristine Brown revealed that plans for Rider to invest in facilities and equipment to accommodate WCC have been presented to the Board of Trustees. These plans include the sale of a portion of the Princeton campus.

“There is a very comprehensive plan for investment in facilities, both for faculty, staff and students,” said Brown.

Bruce Afran, attorney for the Westminster Foundation, which is the alumni and faculty group working to stop the sale or movement of the school, criticized the plan to integrate WCC into the Lawrenceville campus.

“I told Rider two years ago that [this plan] was dead on arrival,” said Afran. “Westminster’s facilities are world-class performance, voice and vocal training facilities that do not exist at Rider and there is no place on Rider’s campus where they can be replicated. The idea that [the administration] can move Westminster to Rider is farcical at best and incompetent at worst.”

Afran and Brown suggested that the litigation between the university and a number of entities will continue.

Dell’Omo announced the decision at two separate faculty and staff meetings at WCC and Rider on July 1. Dell’Omo and the administration fielded questions following the announcement.

Dell’Omo declined to be interviewed by The Rider News.

Professor of Music Composition and Theory at Westminster Choir College and AAUP officer Joel Phillips attended the meeting at WCC and was not pleased with the information given by the administration.

“Pretty much everything they said in an answer to a question was an unsatisfying answer,” said Phillips. “Somebody asked if they considered doing a fundraising campaign on the Princeton campus like they are doing on the Lawrenceville campus. It’s just very clear they don’t have a plan.”

Brown said that the agreement between Rider and Kaiwen to cancel the sale had been agreed in the “last week.”

“I think it had been clear to both Kaiwen and Rider as the process unfolded that there were certainly a lot of obstacles,” said Brown.

At the end of a long process between Rider and Kaiwen, Brown said she remained optimistic about the future of the university and WCC.

“We know that this has been challenging,” said Brown. “We know people have been patient. They have expressed their frustration and that is warranted and understood. July 1, 2019 gives us an opportunity to look at [Rider] University, Westminster College of the Arts and WCC in a whole different way.”

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