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Rally to save Westminster Choir College set for this afternoon

Students and faculty hold a rally May 3 on the Rider University campus in Lawrenceville.
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Students and faculty at Rider University and Westminster Choir College will hold a rally today, May 8,  to protest what they say are “drastic” cost-cutting measures proposed by Rider University administrators, including the sale of the century-old music school.

The Rally for Westminster will be held on the Westminster Choir College green between Talbott Library and the residence halls at 3:30 p.m. The college is located in downtown Princeton at the intersection of Hamilton Avenue and Walnut Lane.

“The plan to ‘sell’ Westminster is a terrible idea,” said Professor Jeffrey Halpern, chief negotiator for the Rider chapter of the American Association of University professors, the union for faculty on both campuses.

Union leaders say that “selling” Westminster would result in prolonged legal battles, a loss of endowment and donor base, a decline in overall enrollment, and broken promises to more than 400 students.

At Monday’s rally, students and faculty will also speak out about what they characterize as “draconian” cost-cutting list of demands Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo issued on May 1 that would erase limits on class size, end support for faculty research, increase the teaching load, and cut outside-of-class contact with students.

The union leadership argues that the changes would destroy the quality, student-centered education Rider is currently known for. The administration would also end Rider’s vibrant participation by faculty in academic decision-making and its transparent promotion system, faculty members say. Administrators have argued that the sale of the school and other cost cutting measures are necessary for the school to eliminate its deficit, start new programs, and renovate buildings on the Lawrenceville campus.

“What’s at stake for students is the reputational value of your degree,” Halpern said. “In 15 years, if someone asks you where you went and you say Rider, they will say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s that fourth-rate place in New Jersey, where there’s no scholarship and no real faculty, just a lot of underqualified instructors.’”

Negotiations between Dell’Omo and the union are slated for this summer. The AAUP contract expires Sept. 1. Union leaders say Rider’s administration has refused to consider major concessions offered this year, instead continually increasing its demands. In addition, although Dell’Omo has agreed to spend next year looking for a buyer for Westminster, school officials have announced it will sever ties with the college in 2018, possibly selling the property to Princeton public schools.

Both students and faculty are outraged by this move, which could spell the end of the 97-year-old music school.

“Any attempt to secure a windfall profit from the destruction of a unique world-class institution in order to build new facilities is both morally bankrupt and unlikely to succeed,” union leaders told Rider’s board of trustees.

Union members have suggested that, should this summer’s negotiations fail to lead to an agreement, the matter be put before an arbitrator. The union’s only other option would be a strike after Sept. 1.

“This president is looking to trigger a crisis come September 1,” Halpern said. “We have offered a proposal that guarantees no crisis, and guarantees classes will go on. We’ll see if they accept it. Having read the latest proposal, I’m not holding my breath.”

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Heather Niceski

    Since it’s Rider’s debt, the cuts should come from their campus. Westminster isn’t just for singers. It’s also the top school for music educators, pianists, conductors, organists, composers, music therapists. Maybe you don’t care about music and choir, but there are several major cities in this country (and many other countries) who employ those graduates in performance, conducting, and teaching jobs – and you could start with our neighbors, New York City and Philadelphia.

  • Robert Smith

    People have dreams of becoming a singer. It might not work out, but they will always have the memory.

  • KeepOnSinging

    The financials show that Westminster has a $20 million dollar endowment and is breaking even. It is Rider that is trying to pull down Westminster with it as the main college is in fiscal freefall. The Westminster faculty, students, and alums are correct to protest what is going on.

  • Mandy Johnson

    lol. I know, right? $13million deficit @ Rider. These silly people need to clock out of fantasy land and get real. NOBODY cares about “choiring”.

  • non believer

    The counter proposal from the demonstrators is what? Just don’t?

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