December 14, 2016

Students, Alumni Mobilize To Keep Westminster From Being Relocated

Princeton campus of Westminster Choir College

News that Westminster Choir College (WCC) of Rider University may be moved to Rider’s Lawrenceville campus is not sitting well with students and alumni of the prestigious music school, who want to keep it in downtown Princeton.

Informed by a letter from Rider president Gregory Dell’Omo and Rider Board chair Michael Kennedy that selling the campus is being considered to avoid a projected $13.1 million deficit by 2019, devotees of the school have taken to social media and circulated petitions to urge the administration otherwise. As of Tuesday, there were nearly 2,500 signatures on the petition and 887 on another petition. A Facebook group called Keep Westminster Choir College in Princeton listed 2,347 members.

Live interviews with students, alumni, and parents are in the works for national television morning shows, according to one of the petitions. An interview with students and alumni already appeared on the Philadelphia program Action News.

“I want to show President Dell’Omo that we at Westminster really do care about our family and traditions here,” said Christina Han, the freshman vocal performance major who started one of the petitions. “Westminster is such a family. We are such a small campus, where everyone is a musician and everyone understands you no matter what. We all come here and enjoy the thing we love the most, which is music.”

The possible closing of the Westminster campus is part of a comprehensive study to determine the feasibility of a one-campus model, according to Kristine Brown, a Rider spokesperson.

“Like many other higher education institutions, we must continue to evaluate the way we operate and explore all avenues and options to ensure a sustainable future for Rider University,” she said in an official statement on Tuesday. “Й We understand the sensitivity of this undertaking, particularly given the strong traditions and history associated with our Princeton campus. Please know we are taking the time and necessary steps required to do a full and thorough analysis of the varied and complex elements related to the concept of a one-campus model. It’s also important to reiterate that this process is being guided by the overarching goal of
building and sustaining a strong, viable Rider University now and into the future.”

The study is expected to be completed in the spring of 2017. Rider must increase its enrollment and make substantial savings in order to avoid the crushing deficit. While the letter sent to the campus community did not identify other options under consideration, it stressed that no final decisions have been made.

“The study will entail a full and thorough analysis of the varied and highly complex elements of operating Westminster Choir College, including enrollment, academic programming, facilities and, most importantly, all of the unique elements which directly influence the student experience,” the letter reads.

Westminster Conservatory of Music, the community music school affiliated with the college, is also operated from the Princeton campus. Executive Director Scott Hoerl sent a letter to Conservatory faculty following a campus meeting.

“Please be aware that everyone on this campus is doing everything they can to keep us here. Dean Shaftel was there and made a strong statement that Westminster will continue to remain a vital entity — we hope it will be in Princeton, but we will continue to be the best we can be wherever we are housed. Matthew Shaftel and Rider have made it clear that Westminster Conservatory is and should remain an important part of Westminster,” the letter reads.

Westminster Choir College was founded in 1932 and became a part of Rider in 1992. A study exploring the idea of consolidating the two campuses was done a decade ago, but the decision was made to continue as two locations. Some programs are shared, but the two schools have different cultures.

“We have multiple performance spaces, many practice rooms, 18 pipe organs, and a bunch of different facilities,” said Ms. Han. “Rider, on the other hand, does not have the kinds of facilities performers need in order to accelerate.”

Jane Shaulis, a 1966 graduate of Westminster who sings with the Metropolitan Opera, wrote on Facebook, “I feel that we need to emphasise the fact that the Campus at WCC is unique to the United States. There is not another university program like it. Rider can say that they will still produce organists and singers from their campus but we all know that it won’t be the same and that potential music students will not be attracted to go to Rider University even if they use the WCC name.”