Westminster Foundation To Hold Public Meeting On Survival of Campus
By Anne Levin
With Rider University planning to move Westminster Choir College from its longtime Princeton home to the University’s Lawrence Township campus next fall, those who fear the relocation would spell the end of the esteemed music school are gearing up for what is billed as “A Critical Public Meeting,” set for Tuesday, September 10 at Nassau Presbyterian Church.
The meeting is not a forum or a debate. It is an information session, which will include a video about Westminster and a question-and-answer session after the presentation.
“This is something we started formulating about a month ago as an opportunity to get out to the public what is really going on,” said Constance Fee, who heads the Westminster Foundation, a group of alumni, faculty, and various supporters of the choir college. “The PR from Rider is that this move is all wonderful. But we want to let people know what is actually going on in the background.”
Rider merged with Westminster in 1991. The University announced plans to sell the campus two years ago, and later named a company from China as a potential buyer. But the $40 million deal fell through, and Rider has since changed focus to closing the campus and relocating all of its operations. The plan is opposed by the Foundation and by members of Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).
An amended complaint against Rider was filed last month, seeking to prevent the move and separate Westminster from Rider. An injunction to block the move is currently under preparation, said Fee. Among other claims, the legal actions say that Rider does not have the facilities to accommodate Westminster’s specialized curriculum.
University President Gregory Dell’Omo sent a letter to the Rider/Westminster community last month asking members of the faculty, staff, and student body to join working groups to assist in planning the move.
In a letter to colleagues signed by the AAUP Westminster Choir College Advocacy Team this week, it was written, “Whether or not you have declined or volunteered to participate on a campus transition committee, the proposed consolidation of the two campuses by September, 2020 will be the main focus of the academic year. The enormous risks involved demand that all voices be heard on a plan that will cost millions and shape the future of not only Westminster Choir College but Rider University.”
The letter goes on to say that committees are not being asked to discuss if or when the consolidation will occur, or even which spaces will be utilized, and that all of that has already been decided. “Nor has the community — including the working groups — been provided with the information needed to participate in a rational conversation on this issue,” it reads. “As the voice of the faculty, the AAUP’s repeated requests for information have so far been rebuffed by the administration. We will continue to demand that this process be carried out in a truly open and transparent way without the outcome being predetermined by the president.”
The group has “gathered information on the physical spaces and equipment that is necessary in order to deliver the Westminster curriculum and have put that information into the attached report,” and urges people to consider that information.
Fee said this week that The Alford Group, a Chicago-based consulting partner to nonprofits that provides fundraising and other services, approached the Westminster Foundation about helping to raise money, and are working pro bono until funding is secured. “They are seriously engaged and heavily committed to moving forward to raising the funds necessary,” said Fee.
Funds raised would sustain the school. “We have also been approached by other institutions interested in being affiliated with us,” Fee said, without naming any specific schools. “We have been contacted by two or three educational institutions.”
“The point is that there are other alternatives [to moving the campus]. We have reached out to Rider, and are still willing to work together to find a way. This is not the only option.”
Keeping the campus in Princeton “is vital,” she added. “At this meeting, we want to make people see that. We are inviting Dell’Omo and the board of trustees to attend, and we would love it if they would.”
Contacted Tuesday morning, Rider spokesperson Kristine Brown said Dell’Omo and the board of trustees had yet to receive an invitation. “However, several senior administrators, including myself, do plan to attend in the audience,” she said.
The meeting is at 7 p.m. at the church, 61 Nassau Street. For those unable to attend, it will be live-streamed at http://www.facebook.com/westminsterfoun/.
For more information, visit westminsterfoundationprinceton.org.