November 20, 2019

Westminster Graduate, Ex-Resident Makes a Case for His Alma Mater

To the Editor:

For the last three years, President Dell’Omo and the Rider University Board of Trustees have pursued a disastrously conceived program to sell the Princeton property where Westminster Choir College — one of the colleges of Rider University since the merger in 1991 — has resided since 1932. Its purpose is pure greed for the cash that the University might gain from the sale of real estate, regardless of the consequences for a college that is one of America’s greatest choral institutions.

The resultant destabilization has alienated students and their parents, faculty, and alumni. Widespread negative publicity has damaged Westminster’s image so badly that new enrollment has dropped by 60 percent, stellar members of the faculty have left for more secure positions, and alumni giving has evaporated.

Now since that strategy failed, Rider administration has announced what can only be perceived as a vengeful plan to abruptly move Westminster Choir College by fall of 2020 onto the Lawrenceville campus of the University. There the facilities are completely nonexistent for the proper practice, teaching, rehearsal, and performance needs of a music conservatory. Such a move will certainly result in the demise of the college.

Consider these facts:

  • Every church and school in Princeton has benefited from the musical leadership of Westminster teachers, students, and graduates. That includes Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary.
  • Thousands of local young people have benefited from instrumental and vocal study at the Westminster Conservatory.
  • Hundreds of thousands have delighted in our choirs’ frequent performances with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra over the past 80 years. Such legendary conductors as Arturo Toscanini, Leonard Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy, Zubin Mehta, and Riccardo Muti have relied on our choirs’ superb singing.
  • The state of New Jersey recently acknowledged the excellence of Westminster Choir College, through a $4.2 million grant to help build the Cullen Center, one of the finest, state-of-the-art rehearsal halls in the country.
  • Today across America two million people find joy and fulfilment singing regularly in choirs led by Westminster Choir College graduates.

What the president and trustees of Rider are attempting is worse than a money grab. It is worse than utterly disregarding their responsibility — as trustees — to promote the welfare of Westminster Choir College. It is more than failing to provide the education promised to present students when they enrolled for a degree. And it is worse than disregarding the gifts of all those who have sponsored the college, and the professional lives of all those who have taught there.

What they are doing is an attack on vital foundations of civilized society: culture, artistic beauty, and “the pursuit of happiness.” It is, in essence, an assault on our humanity.

Kenneth Palmowski-Wolfe
Westminster Choir College, Class of 1982
Resident of Princeton, 1976 – 2001