Westminster Choir College, whose parent school is Rider University, will be sold to a buyer in order to keep the college open and on its campus in Princeton, Rider announced today. Westminster community members protested a potential move to Rider’s Lawrenceville campus rather than being sold to another University on Tuesday morning at a committee meeting where the decision was made.
According in NJ.com, Rider had an 11-member committee study if Westminster would remain at Rider’s main campus. This was part of Rider’s “efforts to boost enrollment and close a potential $13.1 million budget shortfall by 2019.”
In an emailed statement to the Daily Princetonian, Westminster junior Lydia Stepanoff said that the protest outside the Rider University committee meeting at Rider’s Lawrenceville campus took place this March 28 at 8 a.m. She wrote in the email that Rider’s administration announced in December they were considering a one-campus model for the choir college with its Princeton campus.
Stepanoff wrote that she believes moving Westminster “would be a mistake because Westminster’s campus is a historic place and a center for the musical world.”
She wrote that “part of our protest was silent because we believe that silence is strong and it showed the Board of Trustees how they would be silencing our voices if they did not keep us where we are.” She said that protesters also sang Peter Lutkin’s “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” which is also Westminster’s anthem, among other songs. She said protesters sang the piece as Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo walked to the meeting.
Westminster sophomore Jillian Corn, who attended the protest as well, said that the turnout was impressive.
“When you go to a school with only 500 people, it says something when the majority of the school shows up at 8 a.m. to stand in solidarity with their friends,” Corn said. “I think we made a big statement to the board members walking in."
Westminster masters student Thomas Heidenreich said that while he was not at the protest, hearing about and seeing through Facebook videos the support from alumni, students, and faculty protesting a possible move was heartening.
“We're all very grateful for what we have, and this situation has shown the sense of solidarity and community on campus,” Heidenreich said. “We want to show to the world through our music and our craft that art does mean something and can change people."
Corn explained that part of the frustration Westminster community members expressed with the events leading up to this committee meeting stemmed from a lack of transparency. She said that Westminster wasn’t made aware of Rider’s enormous debt until recently.
"It all goes back to the lack of communication,” Corn said. “While it is frustrating that Rider's debts are affecting Westminster, we understand that we are in fact part of a larger university."
Heidenreich expressed optimism about the future of Westminster, noting that most thought Rider would decide to sell Westminster’s Princeton campus and move the choir college to the Lawrenceville campus.
Corn said she thought the best-case scenario would be for Westminster to be bought by another school with a large endowment – ideally being able to remain on its Princeton campus. She added that she also thought it was necessary to be open-minded if another university purchases Westminster.
Corn expressed thanks for Rider while acknowledging it has been a trying few months.
"In the last couple of months it's been a very frustrating process, with students and faculty feeling as though we have not been included in the decision-making process,” Corn said. “While today did feel like a victory, we still have a way to go before we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. The potential that a new school might purchase us and respect how we do it here and help us all to excel and be the best musicians we can be is exciting.”
"There is no resentment for the budget problems in the first place, it's a national trend for less well-endowed liberal arts colleges,” Heidenreich said. “The resentment would lie in the lack of communication and transparency in the process."
Heidenreich and Corn both expressed their desire to stay on at Westminster’s Princeton campus.
“It's one thing to talk about the facilities we have, it's another thing to sing in the same room that Leonard Bernstein conducted in years ago,” Heidenreich said. “That sense of place is very special, and the small communal nature of the school – everyone knows everyone – is important.”
"I don't think there is any place quite like Westminster,” Corn said. “At least for one hour every day, our entire class is together singing together."