March 13, 2019

Bill Introduced Opposing Choir College Sale

By Anne Levin

Six members of the New Jersey Assembly have introduced a resolution that opposes Rider University’s sale of Westminster Choir College to a for-profit company partially owned by the Chinese government, saying it could jeopardize national security.

Assemblyman Harold “Hal” Wirths, a Republican who represents Morris, Sussex, and Warren counties, introduced the bill on March 5. It is co-sponsored by fellow Republican Assemblymen Parker Space, Robert Auth, John Di Maio, Erik Peterson, and Kevin J. Rooney. The bill is also expected to be submitted to the New Jersey Senate.

“Given that Kaiwen Education, formerly a steel company, does not have a history in higher education, particularly professional music training, and with the multitude of world-class scientists, researchers, and institutions located in Princeton, it appears that the Chinese government may be using the guise of academia to infiltrate the choir college for nefarious purposes, including the collection of United States intelligence and intellectual property theft,” their statement reads.

The resolution is the latest effort to block the sale of the Choir College, which merged with Rider in 1992. Rider president Gregory Dell’Omo announced in 2016 that Rider was seeking a buyer for Westminster. In October 2017, it was announced that the new owner would be a Chinese company, Kaiwen Education, which was offering $40 million for the Princeton campus, plus another $16 million to be invested in programs and infrastructure.

While Rider has entered into a purchase
and sale agreement with Kaiwen, there are two lawsuits pending, as well as an arbitration case by the Rider chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). A decision by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office on whether the sale is legal is expected in the next week, according to Constance Fee, president of the Westminster Foundation and an alumna of the renowned music school.

If the sale is ruled to be illegal, the lawsuits will remain in place, Fee said. “At this point, the Foundation’s number one goal would be for Rider to come to their senses, and go back to the way things were. The second goal is to merge with another viable partner. There is a lot of research going on behind the scenes to make sure there is a Plan B in place.”

Assemblyman Wirths said he became aware of the situation when alumni of Westminster reached out to him and other members of state government. “When I first heard about it, it was tough to imagine,” he said on Monday. “The Chinese government has been in the news a lot lately. The more I looked into it, the more it didn’t make sense to me why they’d be buying a nearly 100-year-old choir college in Princeton.”

The resolution opposing the sale includes the statement, “Although often thought of as primarily a college town because of its association with Princeton University, Princeton is home to many world-renowned research centers in high technology, defense, and cyber space, and is a center of studies for the United States Intelligence community.”

“I think a lot of people don’t realize what is going on,” said Wirths. “The Chinese have been kicked out of 10 American colleges, as well as schools in Canada and the U.K. With Princeton home to world class scientists, this is about security.”

Asked for comment about the resolution, Rider spokesperson Kristine Brown wrote in an email: “After a comprehensive process that concluded in February 2018, Rider University determined that Kaiwen Education would be the best partner to achieve the stated goals of preserving and enhancing the Westminster brand, mission, and history. We are diligently taking the required steps to close this transaction and to ensure that the transition will be as smooth as possible for everyone. To that end, Rider and Kaiwen are working closely with all the required regulatory and legal authorities, at both the state and federal levels, as well as with the appropriate higher education accreditation organizations.”