February 7, 2018

Judge Denies Request by Faculty To Stall Sale of Choir College

By Anne Levin

Last Friday, a federal judge declined a request by Rider University’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to temporarily halt the sale of Westminster Choir College to an as-yet unnamed buyer from China.

The injunction, if granted, would have prevented Rider’s administration from entering into any binding agreement over the sale of the music school, affiliated with Rider since 1992, until the resolution of arbitration over layoff notices that Rider issued in November to Westminster professors and librarians.

The AAUP is undecided about whether to appeal the ruling. “We want to protect the faculty,” said Elizabeth Scheiber, Rider professor and president of the AAUP chapter. “We’ll see what our legal counsel says. We’re not really sure if it makes a difference if we ask for an injunction, because the University doesn’t seem to be in a place to make a final sale yet. They say they’re doing a lot and working hard, but they don’t have all the terms down yet.”

In a letter to the University community January 23, Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo and Board Chairman Robert S. Schimek said the school has been “in constant discussions with our partner and have been productive in our efforts to finalize a term sheet that will provide the opportunity for the long-term success of Westminster.” The letter further assures that “the Choir College is continuing with an incredibly active audition, performance, and class schedule for the spring semester. We look forward to sending off the class of ’18 in a few short months while preparing to welcome a new group of talented, creative individuals as the class of ’22 enters this coming fall.”

Rider, which is in Lawrenceville, announced last year that it was selling the music school, which sits on a prime, 23-acre site in Princeton, to stem financial problems, many of which they attribute to Westminster. But citing audits, the union has countered that Rider’s financial situation is not as dire as stated, and that deficits are much smaller than the University projects for the near future.

Rider announced in August that it had entered into negotiations with the buyer, which wants to keep the school in place and operate it as a nonprofit, maintaining current faculty and staff. “The union has some issues with this situation, because we don’t know who the buyer is,” said Scheiber. “We only know that it is a Chinese buyer that has run K-12 private schools in China. They haven’t operated in the United States, or as nonprofits. We’re just being told to trust the University, but they keep saying they can’t reveal the buyer.”

The March 29 arbitration is the current focus of the AAUP chapter. “We’re worried that faculty that could be laid off won’t have any remedy if these promises turn out to be false,” Scheiber said. “We are going to arbitration because our contract specifies that layoffs can only occur in the case of financial exigencies. The University has to show they are in real financial straits.”