July 19, 2017

Save Westminster Coalition Files Amendment to Suit Amid New Information

Rider University’s announcement last week that a new dance studio will open on its campus in Lawrenceville does not sit well with those working to keep the University from closing Westminster Choir College (WCC) in Princeton, which Rider owns and wants to sell.

Members of The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton have used words like “infuriating” and “insulting” on social media, one likening the opening of a $700,000 studio at Rider while the future of Westminster remains uncertain to “a punch in the face.”

Last week, the group added an amendment to a complaint against Rider that was filed last month in federal court. The lawsuit claims that based on the 1991 agreement that merged Rider and Westminster, Rider has no legal right to sell the music school. The amendment states that Rider’s claims of a Westminster deficit are false; rather that last year, Westminster ran at a surplus of $2,850,000. “As such facts demonstrate,” the amendment states, “Rider’s claimed $10 million annual deficit is not caused by Westminster that, in contrast to Rider University, operated in 2016 at a surplus.”

“How can you say you are in such dire financial difficulties that your only hope is to relocate WCC and sell the campus for profit, and then suddenly find almost three quarters of a million dollars lying around to build a new dance studio?,” wrote Constance Fee, who heads the Coalition, in an email this week. “With this news, along with newly discovered financial information which has motivated an amendment to our original complaint which was filed on June 20, it continues to be difficult to know what to believe.”

The new studio is to be used for Rider’s School of Fine and Performing Arts, a division of the Westminster College of the Arts. According to a press release, it was built to accommodate a growing dance and musical theater program. “We are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the creation of the College of the Arts this year, so this studio could not come at a better time,” said Marshall Onofrio, dean of the arts school. “Over the past 10 years, Rider has been very responsive in creating new facilities for our students.”

Kristine A. Brown, assistant vice president of Rider University Marketing and Communications, said, “Rider is committed to providing a dynamic academic and campus experience for our students and faculty. Since the College of the Arts opened 10 years ago, we’ve seen a growing interest from our student body in our nationally renowned dance and musical theater programs. To accommodate this interest, and help enhance our current programs, Rider University’s School of Fine and Performing Arts will be opening a new dance studio this fall.”

Westminster Choir College has been a part of Rider since the merger in 1991. The Princeton campus is also home to the Westminster Conservatory, a community music school. Like Rider’s School of Fine and Performing Arts, the choir college and conservatory are considered divisions of the Westminster College of the Arts.

Last March, Rider announced it was selling the Princeton campus, with the intent of finding another academic institution that would absorb Westminster while, ideally, keeping it in Princeton. But no academic institutions have stepped up to express interest in the property, according to the lawsuit filed by the Coalition — except for Princeton Public Schools, which made an official offer for the Walnut Avenue site last month.

Other upgrades on the Rider campus include a new recruiting lounge and academic support center and a renovated Starbucks in the lobby of the Student Recreation Center.