April 22, 2020

Westminster Foundation Filing an Appeal to Dismissal of Lawsuits

By Anne Levin

An appeal is being prepared to the March 2 dismissal of two lawsuits that sought to block Rider University’s plan to move Westminster Choir College from its longtime Princeton home to Rider’s campus in Lawrence Township.

Following a February 14 hearing in which attorneys presented their arguments, Judge Robert Lougy of Mercer County Superior Court issued his ruling in favor of Rider. Last week, Princeton lawyer Bruce Afran filed a notice of appeal.

The two lawsuits had been filed by the Westminster Foundation, a nonprofit made up of alumni and supporters of the choir college, and 71 Westminster students.

Westminster became a part of Rider in 1992. Citing financial difficulties, Rider has tried to sell the choral academy during the past two years. When a deal with a Chinese organization did not materialize, the University announced it would relocate Westminster and its programs to the Lawrence campus.

Opposition to the plan is centered around the argument that Westminster’s specialized facilities, including pipe organs, a new performance hall, and specialized practice rooms, cannot be duplicated on the Rider campus.

Meanwhile, the bond credit rating business Moody’s has downgraded Rider’s revenue bonds to junk status. The April 6 report from Moody’s Investors Service says that declining enrollment and net tuition revenue were factors in the downgrade. While the projected costs of the coronavirus pandemic are cited as contributors, the overall financial situation at the University is what caused the lowered rating.

According to The Rider News, the University’s administration has estimated that the cost of the consolidation of Westminster to the Lawrence campus will be between $16 million and $20 million. Kristine A. Brown, associate vice president of Rider’s Marketing and Communications office, said plans to relocate Westminster are underway.

“Progress continues to be made on several key construction projects related to the Westminster Choir College campus transition that were already underway before the coronavirus pandemic,” she said in an email. “While there have been some
minor challenges over the past month, mostly related to delay in delivery of construction supplies, by and large the projects remain on schedule at this time.”

Asked about the appeal, Brown said, “We are aware of the appeal filing, but do not comment publicly on pending litigation.”
Constance Fee, who heads the Westminster Foundation, said the nonprofit has increased its efforts to block the relocation. “We have not given up by any means,” she said. “Our efforts have intensified during the pandemic crisis. We have no intention of backing down or giving up.”