With the that Rider University is selling Westminster Choir College, students across its campus have been in turmoil. Now months into the process of the college changing hands, students interviewed said the student body has expressed frustration at the administration’s silence about the sale.
Princeton, N.J.’s renowned conservatory has been in a state of unrest after its students and faculty heard a rumor that an Asian educational corporation with no higher education experience is the college’s prospective buyer. Due to a non-disclosure contract, the name of the buyer cannot be released until the deal is made public.
Corinne Berntsen, secretary for Westminster's class of 2019, revealed that due to the school administration’s lack of transparency, a secret faculty meeting took place, at which false buyer information was disseminated. She cited a combined from the faculty and the Coalition to Save Westminster as a major cause of concern for students and faculty alike.
Because of the lack of communication between Westminster administration and its students and faculty, rumors about the school's sale have also begun to circulate across campus, some claiming that Westminster would shut its doors permanently at the conclusion of the school year and others alleging that Rider would choose a buyer solely based on the highest offer.
“With reason, the faculty is afraid of the unknown, and what the future status of their employment will include,” Berntsen explained. “The general wish of the community is that we would like to receive information as soon as it has been released to the public. The information should be shared formally, with detail, and clearly enough that the information cannot be speculated from.”
Located near Princeton High School, Westminster Choir College has roots in the town spanning back to the 1930s. The College merged with Rider University 25 years ago to expand its program offerings. With a population of , as well as a 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Westminster’s otherwise tight-knit community now faces an unknown fate.
WCC’s meeting with President Gregory Dell’Omo revealed that Rider will not part ways with Westminster in the next year, preparing for the case that the deal with the unknown prospective buyer falls through. If that does transpire, Rider will then begin the selling process of WCC anew with some other prospective buyer.
Dr. Joel Phillips, a professor of composition and music theory, has taught at Rider for over 30 years and is one of many faculty members who has expressed doubt over Dell’Omo’s judgement.
“The Westminster community was asked to do the impossible, to trust Dell’Omo, a person who has treated Westminster merely as an ‘asset’ he can sell,” he said. Phillips has been a member of every faculty negotiating team since the merger joining Westminster and Rider.
When the ‘Prince’ reached out to Rider administration, Assistant Vice President for University Marketing and Communications Kristine Brown offered a brief statement regarding the purchase.
“We are working diligently to finalize our mutual goals of continuing Westminster Choir College on the Princeton campus,” said Brown. “While we all share the desire to move this forward quickly, much work still remains. We continue to ask our community for their patience as this important process moves forward.”
However, a number of students on campus find this answer unsatisfactory.
“The Rider University Board of Trustees made an in March that promised to put the interests of our institution first,” said Shelden Mendes, a junior at WCC. “After a long waiting period, we discovered that Gregory Dell'Omo never intended to maintain an altruistic search [for a buyer], but rather reverted to his ways of closed door discussions.”
In spite of the difficulties of this process, Westminster students have demonstrated their eagerness to speak up for their education and their willingness to play a role in future conversations about the outcome of this negotiation.
“Westminster Choir College has a very strong voice, not only throughout the Princeton community but throughout the world, so when we heard that our voices may be silenced, we automatically took action,” said Rachel Woody, a sophomore at WCC. She went on to affirm that the students’ limited influence over the impending purchase will not stifle their voices. “As students, there is only so much we can do, but we have done what we can to let our voices be heard throughout this process,” she noted.