August 8, 2018

Rider AAUP Chapter Circulates Petition Opposing Westminster Sale

By Anne Levin

A petition to alert people beyond the Westminster Choir College of Rider University community about the proposed sale of the music school to a Chinese company — a sale that many believe will result in the eventual ruin of the music school — is currently being circulated by Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

Art Taylor, a Rider professor of information systems and a member of the AAUP chapter, said Monday that the petition has received about 950 responses. “I thought it would take a month to get to that point, but it has only been a week,” he said. “That’s indicative of how disappointed the greater community is.”

Taylor said the petition has been posted on the AAUP blog, and is about to be sent to members of the greater classical music community.

A part of Rider since 1991, Westminster is a leading music school whose students perform internationally with major orchestras and conductors. Rider announced last year that it was selling the school and its 22-acre campus in Princeton, for $40 million, to Kaiwen Educational, a Chinese for-profit building company “with no experience in higher education or musical education,” reads the petition. Rider’s agreement with Kaiwen guarantees that Kaiwen maintain Westminster’s programs only for five years, and operate the campus for 10 years.

“It is clear from the terms of this attempted sale that Rider’s administration is pursuing a path forward which will lead to the destruction of Westminster Choir College,” it continues. “Therefore, we the undersigned believe that the sale of Westminster Choir College to a for-profit foreign entity beyond the reach of domestic laws, with a very different educational model, and with no experience in higher education or music education, will lead to the destruction and loss of this irreplaceable cultural gem. We remind Rider’s Board of Trustees that their role is to act as stewards to the educational institution which includes Westminster Choir College. We therefore demand that the Board of Trustees of Rider University rescind its decision to sell Westminster Choir College and begin the process of healing the Rider community.”

Rider president Gregory Dell’Omo announced in June that the school had signed a purchase and sale agreement for the transfer of Westminster to Kaiwen. But two lawsuits against the school are underway, and the transaction can not be completed while the suits are still pending, according to Bruce Afran, attorney for one of the suits.

Taylor said members of the AAUP chapter are considering informing Rider’s Board of Trustees that the sale can be stopped. “I get that they don’t particularly seem to care about Westminster, but this is also hurting Rider and the community and the arts,” he said. “Don’t they care about that?”

Taylor said he would also like to make Kaiwen aware of the negativity surrounding the sale. “Whether we can do that, I don’t know. But we can certainly try. We’re not giving up,” he said. “I think Rider’s administration will probably keep trying to do this up to the point where some numbers are thrown out, and then we’ll see what happens. Despite what they have said, there is no impending sale. They have already spent a lot of money on this, and it is hurting the institution. The Board will have to make a decision.”