December 6, 2017

Buyer of Westminster Still Remains Nameless In Letter From Rider

By Anne Levin

Rider University president Gregory Dell’Omo sent a letter this week to faculty, staff, and students of Westminster Choir College updating them on the state of the school’s proposed transition to its new, as-yet-unnamed operator. There wasn’t much to report.

“In response to questions, we said at the time that we felt it was important for a number of reasons to have a term sheet in place with the partner before introducing them to our community, and we hoped to have that term sheet in place in approximately 30 days from that time,” reads the letter, referring to meetings that were held a month ago with the college community. “While we are making good progress, we do not yet have agreement on a term sheet. Consequently, we are not yet in a position to introduce the partner to you.”

The letter, which was also signed by Robert B. Schimek ’87, chairman of the board of trustees, and Westminster Dean Marshall Onofrio, goes on to say that the administration is “encouraged to say that the partner has recently hired an accreditation consultant recommended by the Choir College to help them coordinate accreditation with the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). Westminster Choir College is currently accredited by NASM and the partner is working diligently to assure its continuation.”

Rider University, located in Lawrence Township, merged with Westminster Choir College in 1992. Citing financial need that has been disputed by members of Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the University announced plans last spring to sell Westminster’s more than 20-acre campus in Princeton. The proposed buyer is said to be a for-profit company that operates K-12 schools in Asia.

The University is being sued by a coalition of Westminster alumni, faculty, and others claiming the 1992 agreement does not allow for such a sale and alleging breach of contract. In addition, the AAUP chapter has filed for arbitration on the grounds that Rider has not met the contractual requirements to allow for layoffs announced last month that said the school could close if the transaction does not go through.

The letter from Rider maintains that the proposed partner has “also identified a project manager, again on the recommendation of the Choir College, with substantial U.S. higher education/music experience. This project manager will work with other consultants and the Westminster community to help lead this process to a successful conclusion,” it reads.

To Jeffrey Halpern, Rider sociology professor and AAUP chief negotiator, the letter is “more of the same,” he said Tuesday. “Everything is great, everything is going fine, but we can’t tell you anything. That’s the message he [Dell’Omo] has been putting out from day one.”

The Rider/Westminster community was originally told that Rider intended to have an agreement with a new buyer by September 2017. “Now, they have not even exchanged term sheets,” Halpern said. “Our understanding is that this is yet to happen. But for some reason that is quite a mystery to us, there can be no release of any information about who that buyer is. When major companies buy other companies, you read about it in The New York Times, even though everybody realizes it might not happen. So all of us are quite suspicious that the very nature of the buyer is such that public knowledge might cause a negative reaction.”

The letter reminds the community, “As we have indicated previously, this document is non-binding. However, it is a road map for the drafting of the binding transfer agreement. That effort will begin upon completion of the term sheet. Although we had hoped to share the name of the partner by this time, the negotiations remain confidential and both Rider and the partner have committed to maintaining their confidentiality until we are further along in the process.”