March 8, 2017

Alumni, Students Continue Efforts To Save Westminster Campus But Fate Remains Uncertain

A decision has yet to be announced on whether Rider University will sell the Princeton campus of Westminster Choir College, which Rider has owned since 1992. As negotiations continue, efforts to save the 85-year-old musical academy on Walnut Lane have intensified.

Constance Fee, chairperson of the Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College, said Tuesday that there are close to 5,000 signatures on two petitions that have been circulated among students, parents, alumni, and others in support of the school. “Some of the comments are just heart-wrenching,” she said. “I’m hoping to have them printed out and hand-delivered. Things have developed and grown. We are working full time to explore our options and try to see our way ahead. We are still working to save Westminster.”

Rider’s faculty, members of the American Association of University Professors, was scheduled to vote Tuesday on a resolution of “no confidence” in president Gregory G. Dell’Omo. But the vote did not happen, according to Rider spokesperson Kristine A. Brown.

“It is our understanding that a vote of no confidence did not take place today,” she said in a statement. “We are encouraged that many of our University faculty, coaches, trainers, and librarians are optimistic that we can work together to discuss our challenges and find solutions that will ensure Rider’s long-term stability and competitiveness. President Dell’Omo remains deeply committed to working with AAUP leadership. He will continue to meet with academic departments and other groups across the University and is open to all ideas that will help the
University address the issues before us. Our goals continue to be the same — we are all committed to improving Rider University and maintaining a world-class curriculum with excellent student outcomes. The president is confident in the future of Rider University.”

Earlier, Ms. Fee had urged stakeholders to participate in their own vote by registering comments on the Coalition’s Facebook page, emailing the University directly, posting on their own websites, or demanding that “tuition dollars be held in escrow until a plan is presented that saves Westminster and rebuilds trust in the management of Rider University,” she said.

According to a release from the Coalition, an alumnus named Pat Guth has said that Westminster will be removed as a beneficiary of her will if the Princeton campus is shut down. “Her actions are being repeated by scores of others who are pledging to not only withhold donations but to seek reimbursement from Rider for donations provided under the false promise of fiscal integrity and Westminster’s presence,” the release reads.

Rider commissioned a study to explore the possibility of selling the 28-acre campus as a way to offset a more than $13 million deficit and merging Westminster into Rider’s Lawrenceville location. A decision was originally planned for last month but has since been pushed to this month or next. Efforts by the Coalition to bring attention to the issue have included a 24-hour music marathon held at Nassau Presbyterian Church, an appearance at a meeting of Princeton’s Historical Commission to request that the campus be considered as a historic district, and interviews on several television shows.

In the meantime, a partnership between Rider and Jacobs Music/Steinway has been announced, bringing eight Steinway grand pianos to the campus, thanks to an insurance settlement after a flood damaged several instruments. A benefit concert by Michael Feinstein and a master class by pianist Sandra Rivers are also planned.

In a Facebook post on the page Keep Westminster Choir College in Princeton, alumnus Jonathan Palmer Lakeland, who chairs Westminster’s Alumni Piano Task Force, wrote that the arrangement “strengthens our position to remain on the Princeton campus. Such a strengthening of our piano fleet, and a new relationship with Steinway, will help us to attract more piano students, allows us unique fundraising opportunities, and shows that Westminster Choir College in Princeton is a thriving, exciting, and buzzing campus, and must remain in its historical home in Princeton.”