September 25, 2019

Westminster Supporters Hold Rally, Attempt to Meet With Murphy

HOPING TO ALERT THE GOVERNOR: Concerned members of the Westminster Choir College community gathered Tuesday outside Rider University’s Luedeke Center to tell Governor Phil Murphy, who was speaking on another matter inside, why they oppose Rider’s plan to close Westminster’s Princeton campus and move students to Lawrenceville. But Murphy left without meeting with them. (Photo by Brian Saber)

By Anne Levin

A group of students, alumni, faculty members, and supporters of Westminster Choir College of Rider University were hoping to grab a few moments with Governor Phil Murphy on Tuesday, as he exited Rider’s Bart Luedeke Center following a scheduled speech. But Murphy left through a back door and never encountered the group.

This snag in their plans didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of the 80 to 100 people hoping to let Murphy know of their opposition to Rider’s plan to close down Westminster’s Princeton campus. Rider, which merged with Westminster in 1991, wants to move the music school’s operations to Rider’s Lawrenceville location. Members of the Westminster community say the school lacks the facilities needed for their training and has no intention to build them.

The goal was to hold a “respectful protest,” organized by the Westminster Foundation, founded two years ago after Rider announced plans to sell the Princeton campus. Wearing Westminster T-shirts, holding signs, and occasionally breaking into song, the group of protesters included several students who were excused early from classes and rehearsals in order to attend.

“I’m here because I can’t see myself anywhere else,” said Anthony Pinkerton, a junior majoring in voice performance and music education. “The legacy of Westminster can’t happen on any other campus. Rider says they have the facilities for us, but they don’t. We need specialized spaces to create the sound that we create.”

“We’re hoping to get a few minutes with the governor,” said Doug Helvering, who teaches theory and composition at Westminster and is an alumnus of the school. “What we’re hoping is that they can issue an injunction, at least, to stop the move.”

A “Call to Action” released by the Westminster Foundation on September 22 says moving the campus and selling the 22-acre property along Walnut Lane will “cause the death of the institution and irreparable harm to the Princeton community. There are no adequate facilities in Lawrenceville to house Westminster’s
specialized professional-level programs, nor will there by by August 2020 [the projected date for completion of the move].”

The list of plaintiffs in a lawsuit designed to legally stop the move keeps growing, according to Constance Fee, president of the Westminster Foundation. But lawsuits take time, and Westminster supporters worry that the school will be destroyed by the time anything is settled. Enrollment is currently down by 60 percent.

“The administration is attempting to organize committees to decide where to put us on their campus; many of us have refused to serve,” wrote Westminster faculty member Elem Eley in a note to fellow faculty. “Such poorly considered action from Rider represents the classic tale of cart before horse. If allowed to proceed, the ‘plan’ to move Westminster and sell the property will cause irreparable harm to Westminster. It will be the death of our institution, as there is not now, nor will there be, adequate facilities to house us in less than one year.”

Murphy appeared at Rider as part of part of The Rebovich Institute’s Governing New Jersey series. Westminster students submitted questions and letters through an aide to the governor, but none of their questions were addressed during a question-and-answer session following his talk.