Westminster Choir College in Princeton is one of the most famous musical schools in the world. Since its founding in 1920 and its move to Princeton in 1932, the college has trained thousands of musicians, conductors and scholars. In the 1990s, the college was facing financial problems, and it merged with nearby Rider University. Rider has now created a hornet’s nest of a dispute by announcing the proposed sale of the choir college to a firm located in China and partially owned by the Chinese government.
Many people do not want the sale to close. Two business lawsuits are pending in state court that would have the effect of barring the sale. One lawsuit has been commenced by the Westminster Foundation, a group of alumni, donors and other stakeholders, and the other has been commenced by Princeton Theological Seminary. The Westminster Foundation is asserting that Rider has no power to sell the choir college to any business entity or government-controlled entity because the college is a private nonprofit entity.
The Princeton Theological Seminary’s lawsuit is based on its long-time status as a steward of the college. This status was created when a Princeton resident donated land for the choir college on the condition, among others, that the Theological Seminary would protect the status of the college. The gift was also conditioned on the provision that, if the choir college every ceased to operate as such, the land would revert to the Theological Seminary. When the choir college merged with Rider, this stipulation was incorporated into the agreement between Rider and the choir college.
The Rider chapter of the American Association of University Professors has also challenged the sale by commencing an arbitration proceeding.
For its part, Rider has steadfastly maintained that the sale will close as scheduled on July 1, 2019. Rider officials have said that the University cannot sustain the financial burdens imposed by operating the choir college and that the proposed sale will guarantee the choir college a financially sound future.
The proposed sale has already imposed costs on the college. Enrollment has fallen sharply, and the costs of the sale and defending the lawsuits have already surpassed $1 million. The two lawsuits and arbitration proceeding are far from ending, and the New Jersey Attorney General’s office is considering intervening to block the sale.