This article was originally published in our sister paper, U.S. 1 Newspaper.
Rider University has signed a non-binding agreement to sell Westminster Choir College to Kaiwen Education Technology Company, a for-profit Chinese firm that operates two K-12 schools in Bejing, for $40 million. Until December Kaiwen was called Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure Co.
The exact terms of the preliminary deal remained confidential, but Rider says Kaiwen plans to continue to operate Westminster at its Princeton campus. In addition to taking control of the campus and the music school program, Kaiwen would get Westminster’s $20 million endowment, which Rider has managed since merging with Westminster in 1991.
“This is the beginning of an exciting new era for Westminster Choir College, its faculty, staff, and students,” said Rider President Gregory G. Dell’Omo. “Kaiwen Education put forth an impressive proposal rooted in their sincere interest in the Westminster brand and in keeping the institution as a part of the Princeton community. We are eager to continue collaborating with Kaiwen Education to develop a binding agreement, the next step in this process.”
Rider’s faculty union, which represents Westminster instructors, blasted the deal, pointing out that Kaiwen has only operated schools for the past two or three years.
“It is completely beyond belief that the buyer has the ability, not to mention the desire, to run a world-renowned choir college,” said Elizabeth Scheiber, professor of French and Italian and president of the AAUP, the union that represents the faculty. In a prepared statement, she said that in its own announcement of the proposed deal Kaiwan Education Technology stated that it is purchasing the college to increase its own profitability.
Jeffrey Halpern, a professor of sociology and contract administrator of the AAUP, said Rider was “acting in complete disregard of both its legal and moral obligations to Westminster Choir College.”
“We believe that goal can only be accomplished by stripping Westminster of its assets, laying off faculty and administrators, and then closing it and converting the land and buildings to other purposes,” he said.
The proposed sale is the subject of three different lawsuits by groups including former students, faculty, and affiliated institutions that are trying to stop it.
Rider’s announcement said that to assist with the transition Kaiwen has hired two consultants recommended by Westminster: Catherine (Kitty) Jarjisian and Larrry Livingston. Jarjisian is an accreditation consultant who is retired from a career in music education and administration. She will lead and coordinate efforts to obtain accreditation with the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), the accreditation body charged with maintaining national standards for undergraduate and graduate degrees and other credentials for music and music-related disciplines
Livingston, currently the chair of the Department of Conducting at the University of Southern California’s school of music, will serve as the project manager and liaison to obtain regulatory approvals such as state licensure, accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and federal recognition. Livingston was previously vice president and music director of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, dean of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston, and dean of the USC Thornton School of Music.
Rider said that it plans to bring representatives from Kaiwen Education, as well as Livingston and Jarjisian, to campus in the near future to meet the Westminster community.
Dell’Omo said the $40 million purchase price will allow for Rider to invest in many priorities outlined in its recently adopted strategic plan and also allow the university to offset some of the losses incurred in operating Westminster since 1992.
The announcement said Kaiwen intends to offer employment to faculty and staff and continue committed student aid at the time of closing in the form of endowed scholarships, tuition discounts, and other grant obligations.
Dell’Omo said the purchase price is indicative that the partner has the resources to invest in Westminster and is committed to its long-term viability. “They are well positioned to continue the significant investment in Westminster that Rider has made over the past 25 years,” he said.
The faculty union was skeptical that the deal would greatly benefit Rider’s finances, saying that relinquishing Westminster’s endowment, plus using $8 million to pay off the mortgage on Westminster’s 23-acre campus, would eat into the $40 million price tag.
“President Dell’Omo’s boast of a $40 million deal would be reduced by at least $29 million, not to mention the cost of the very expensive ongoing litigation concerning the sale. At best the net proceeds from such a transaction would be in the range of $10 to $12 million,” said Arthur Taylor, professor of information systems and member of the AAUP executive committee.
“We believe that for the good of the institution, the board of trustees must rescind its decision to sell Westminster and take steps to restore confidence in Rider’s institutional leadership. We remain ready and willing to work with Rider’s board of trustees to find a way forward that does not ignore the academic mission of the institution and destroys the cultural gem, which is Westminster Choir College,” Scheiber said.
Shortly after announcing the sale Rider announced it was beginning work on major renovations to its main campus in Lawrenceville, funded mostly by a $38 million bond taken out last year. Projects include a new facade for the Bart Luedeke Center, upgrades to residence halls, upgrades to classrooms in the business and accounting school building, and renovations to its science and technology center. It is also planning a $20 million addition to the science and technology center to accommodate new program growth.
Future plans include renovating Rider’s two theaters and more upgrades to residence halls.
Rider University, 2083 Lawrence Road, Lawrenceville 08648. 609-896-5000. Gregory Dell’Omo, president.