August 15, 2018

More Back and Forth Claims About Proposed Westminster Sale

By Anne Levin

As the sale of Westminster Choir College (WCC) by Rider University remains unresolved, those in favor and those opposed to the transaction continue to publicize their positions. A public forum on Wednesday, August 29 at Nassau Presbyterian Church will provide an update on the situation, which includes two pending lawsuits against the University.

In recent weeks, Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has been circulating a petition to segments of the higher education and classical music communities asking for support in their opposition to the proposed sale. Rider wants to sell the 22-acre Westminster campus to the Chinese company known as Kaiwen Education.

Days after release of the petition, a press release on August 8 announced the creation of the nonprofit Westminster Choir College Acquisition Corporation (WCCAC), naming Larry Livingston as its interim president (Livingston had been hired last January as the project manager for the sale). The release said that Rider had entered into a binding agreement with Kaiwen Education to purchase the music school, and that the new nonprofit will take over the operation of Westminster on June 30, 2019 once the transaction is complete.

“Kaiwen’s vision is to sustain and grow WCC’s reputation as a world-class music school, while maintaining it as an artistically preeminent, academically rigorous, and fiscally sound institution,” it reads. “The historical programs of WCC will be substantially maintained in Princeton. Kaiwen imagines that WCC will be even stronger, more well known, more selective, and further enriched by the presence of an outstanding international student body. Lest this concept be misconstrued, the goal is to achieve an optimal mix and balance between domestic and international students on campus. Without question, Kaiwen’s decision was based on its respect for and unalterable desire to help sustain WCC’s culture as an American institution.”

On August 9, the Westminster Foundation, which was organized to oppose the sale, issued a release stating the information presented by WCCAC is not valid and is “intentionally misleading to students, parents, faculty, alumni, and donors.”

The statement adds, “No documents related to the proposed transaction have ever been released to public view, however, Wednesday’s announcements do not reverse Rider University’s June statement that Kaiwen is only obligated to operate Westminster Choir College for four years following the proposed July 2019 closing date. This violates the 1935 trust that created Westminster, the 1991 merger agreement with Rider, and the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) faculty contract, each of which anticipates and requires continued operation of the nonprofit Choir College.”

According to Constance Fee, president of the Westminster Foundation, the statement issued by the WCCAC is “massaging the old information and trying to make it sound like something different.”

Attorney Bruce Afran, who is representing the Foundation and others opposed to the sale, said “It’s just PR nonsense. They happened to get their incorporation papers back from the state, but nothing has actually happened. The truth is, the deal will not close unless they win the lawsuits, so it is not moving forward right now.”

The two lawsuits, by the Westminster Foundation and Princeton Theological Seminary, challenge the legality of the proposed sale. Afran said he is moving to consolidate the two cases with a filing either late this week or early next week.

The focus of the forum on August 29, which begins at 7 p.m., is “Could Saving Westminster Bring Savings to Princeton Taxpayers?” Afran is among those who will serve on the panel.