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After months of speculation among Westminster Choir College students, faculty, and alumni about the school’s future, Rider University President Gregory Dell’Omo sent out an email on Feb. 21 announcing that Rider University has signed a non-binding term sheet to transfer ownership of Westminster to Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co., Ltd., this spring.

The three schools that will be affected by this transfer are Westminster Choir College, Westminster Conservatory of Music, and Westminster Continuing Education.

According to the email from President Dell’Omo, Kaiwen Education is “a Chinese firm that owns Kaiwen Academies, two prominent K-12 international schools in Beijing” and plans to “continue operating Westminster and its entities in Princeton.”

Dell’Omo lauds the firm as an organization that can make the “necessary investments” to preserve Westminster’s legacy. A letter of intent released by Kaiwen Education’s Board of Directors states that the firm plans on investing $40 million in the three schools.

“Kaiwen Education intends to make offers of employment to faculty and staff as well as continue committed student aid at the time of closing in the form of endowed scholarships, tuition discounts and other grant obligations,” the email wrote. 

Dell’Omo also notes that faculty members and staff will continue to retain similar base salary and hourly pay, rank, tenure and service credit, and employee benefit plans.

In addition, Kaiwen Education “has hired two consultants recommended by Westminster to assist in the next stages.” These consultants are Larry Livingston, current chair of the Department of Conducting at the University of Southern California's Flora L. Thornton School of Music, and Catherine "Kitty" Jarjisian, an accreditation consultant and retired music educator and administrator. Dell’Omo plans on bringing Livingston, Jarjisian, and Kaiwen Education representatives to campus in the near future to introduce them to the Westminster community.

Dell’Omo states that further details of the term sheet must be kept confidential, but he plans to keep the Westminster community updated as the administration continues further negotiations with Kaiwen Education.

Westminster College of the Arts Dean Dr. Marshall Onofrio expressed support for “further collaboration.”

“Their K-12 arts education programming is outstanding, and I am confident that they will bring the same commitment to their work with us,” wrote Onofrio in an email to the The Daily Princetonian. “This partnership offers a significant opportunity for Westminster Choir College to not only continue its 92-year history of providing stellar educational and performance experiences but also continue to evolve and thrive.”

However, this email comes days after the Princeton Theological Seminary filed a lawsuit against Rider for violating “the school’s obligations to Princeton Theological Seminary and the conditions set by the original donor of the land,” according to Planet Princeton.

Constance Fee, former president of the Westminster College Alumni Association, which is also involved in the lawsuit, explained that the alumni association is waiting to find out what is in the term sheet before issuing a response. 

“We are asking our lawyer to read through it carefully because we have expectations that the 1991 merger agreement will be honored,” said Fee. “Until we have those facts, the lawsuit is going ahead full force.”

President of the Seminary Craig Barnes was unable to be reached for comment at the time of writing this article.

Although many Westminster alumni remain unsatisfied with the scant details that have been given, current Westminster students are becoming optimistic.

“While the reaction of some outspoken members within our Westminster Family seems to be anger, I'm confident in saying the the majority of the current students have put WCC's legacy to be the top priority,” wrote Shelden Mendes, a junior at WCC, in a message to the ‘Prince.’ “We do expect some changes, and we're prepared to do what we can to help the process along as best we can.” 

Mendes also pointed out that the “buyer spent millions of dollars, not to buy our land, but to continue and further push the legacy of Westminster Choir College.”

Corinne Berntsen, a secretary for Westminster's Student Government Association, echoed Mendes’ sentiments.

“Being a Westminster student for the past three years, every time I receive an email from the Office of the President, I have to admit that it’s a bit traumatizing because, typically, it’s some sort of earth-shattering news,” said Berntsen. “But we’ve been begging for a name of the prospective buyer, and we finally have received it.”

Berntsen emphasized the need to “remain friendly and keep a positive front with this buyer and with Rider.”

“We just really need to keep in mind to be open-minded,” said Berntsen. “I think that this buyer has the ability not only to continue to have our school exist, but I think that we are also going to have opportunities to expand and grow.”

In general, students seem prepared to move forward with these changes and become an active part in the school’s future. 

“Westminster has changed incredibly since its founding days, but what has withstood the test of time?” continued Mendes. “Our ability to accept others and open our hearts. And with that, I welcome Beijing Kaiwen Education into our family.”

An earlier version of this article included an error associated with the title which may have misled some readers. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error.

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