The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College Initiates Spin-Off Discussions With Rider University Administration May 24, 2017
Seeking to preserve a world-renowned cultural institution, the Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton Inc. announced today that the organization has retained Princeton attorney Bruce Afran to advise it on strategies to keep Westminster Choir College as a thriving and independent academic center. Afran, who recently settled two long-running court battles with Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study, is advising the Coalition on strategies to stop a sale by Rider University of the Westminster Choir College campus in Princeton to property developers.
Instead, the Coalition is seeking Rider’s spin-off of Westminster Choir College as an independent academic institution of music education, as Westminster had been for sixty years prior to the 1991 merger with Rider University.
“We are grateful for Rider University’s support of Westminster Choir College since the 1991 merger,” said Constance Fee, President of the Coalition. “And while we appreciate Rider’s commitment to Westminster, the Choir College has returned to financial stability and should not be broken up or sold, but must be retained as an independent, intact academic institution.”
The Coalition was organized in December 2016 after Rider announced that it was considering moving a limited number of Westminster’s music programs to its Lawrenceville campus, and selling the Choir College’s historic campus in Princeton to cover Rider’s anticipated budget deficits during the next few years. This proposed action was opposed by the Coalition as it would have resulted in the effective dismemberment of the historic music college. Following a meeting in late March, the Rider Board of Trustees announced an altered strategy in which it would first seek a new institution for affiliation with Westminster Choir College. Although Rider has stated a preference for an institution that would allow Westminster to remain in Princeton, institutions were also solicited that would move Westminster programs to another institution thus leaving the W.C.C. Princeton campus available for development. “Rider’s goal of selling the campus and moving Westminster’s programs to Lawrenceville or another university would diminish, if not destroy this world-class cultural organization,” Coalition member Howard McMorris stated. “The Westminster campus is a uniquely designed facility for choral rehearsals, music classes, applied music instruction, and performance that cannot be replicated on Rider’s Lawrenceville campus, or any other campus. We have told Rider President Gregory G. Dell’Omo that the Coalition will litigate rather than see this school sold and effectively broken apart.”
Today, Coalition attorney Bruce Afran said it would be difficult for Rider to satisfy and prove in court the limited conditions in the 1991 merger agreement under which Rider can cease operating Westminster’s Princeton campus. “The 1991 agreement was intended to preserve the historic Princeton campus and maintain Westminster’s ‘separate identity’,” Afran said. “The merger agreement did not give Rider the right to benefit financially from the sale of the campus.”
The Coalition also announced today that Coalition representatives and Mr. Afran met on Friday, May 19, with Rider University’s leadership team, including President Dell'Omo, Board Chair Mike Kennedy, and Rider General Counsel Mark Solomon, to discuss the Coalition’s proposal to spin off Westminster as an independent academic institution. “We have had a frank and productive discussion with Rider’s leadership and have proposed that, instead of litigation, Rider and the Coalition begin discussions to return Westminster to its former status as an independent educational institution.” McMorris continued, “We believe good faith discussions like this can aid Rider in its financial future while preserving Westminster Choir College as an independent, world-class cultural institution.” Following Friday’s meeting, President Dell’Omo asked the Coalition team to forward a written proposal that will be considered by Rider’s Board and Executive Committee. The Coalition expects that it will meet again with Rider’s leadership team within 30 days.
The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton, Inc.The mission of the Coalition is to keep Westminster Choir College of Rider University at its current location in Princeton, New Jersey. Both Westminster’s international stature and world-class reputation, as well as its rigorous, residential conservatory experience are uniquely tied to its historic Princeton campus.