Planet Princeton

Coalition to Save Westminster hires Princeton lawyer Bruce Afran, seeks to make choir college an independent entity

Students and faculty at Westminster Choir College and Rider University hold a rally before the end of the semester to call on school officials to preserve the school on the Princeton campus. Photo: Krystal Knapp.

The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College is seeking to make the college an independent school again, and has hired Princeton attorney Bruce Afran to advise the group on strategies.

Afran, who recently settled long-running court battles with Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study, is advising the coalition on strategies to stop the sale of the Westminster Choir College campus in Princeton to other entities.

The Princeton Public Schools and other organizations have expressed interest in buying the property. Some residents have suggested that the property be used for senior housing and a cafe. Rider University officials announced in March that they would sell the school and try to find a buyer who would continue to run the choir college at its current location. But the school could also be moved to another location, and then the land would be sold separately.

The coalition is seeking to spin-off Westminster Choir College as an independent academic institution of music education. Westminster was an independent institution for sixty years prior to the 1991 merger with Rider University.

“We are grateful for Rider University’s support of Westminster Choir College since the 1991 merger,” said Constance Fee, president of the coalition. “And while we appreciate Rider’s commitment to Westminster, the Choir College has returned to financial stability and should not be broken up or sold, but must be retained as an independent, intact academic institution.”

The coalition was organized in December after Rider announced that it was considering moving a limited number of Westminster’s music programs to its Lawrenceville campus, and selling Westminster Choir College’s historic campus in Princeton to cover Rider’s anticipated budget deficits during the next few years. This proposed action was opposed by the coalition. Members argued it would have resulted in the effective dismemberment of the historic music college.

“Rider’s goal of selling the campus and moving Westminster’s programs to Lawrenceville or another university would diminish, if not destroy this world-class cultural organization,” Coalition Member Howard McMorris said. “The Westminster campus is a uniquely designed facility for choral rehearsals, music classes, applied music instruction, and performance that cannot be replicated on Rider’s Lawrenceville campus, or any other campus. We have told Rider President Gregory G. Dell’Omo that the coalition will litigate rather than see this school sold and effectively broken apart.”

Coalition attorney Bruce Afran said it would be difficult for Rider to satisfy and prove in court the limited conditions in the 1991 merger agreement under which Rider can cease operating Westminster’s Princeton campus.

“The 1991 agreement was intended to preserve the historic Princeton campus and maintain Westminster’s ‘separate identity’,” Afran said. “The merger agreement did not give Rider the right to benefit financially from the sale of the campus.”

Afran met on Friday, May 19, with Rider University’s leadership team, including Dell’Omo, Board Chair Mike Kennedy, and Rider General Counsel Mark Solomon to discuss the coalition’s proposal to spin off Westminster as an independent academic institution.

“We have had a frank and productive discussion with Rider’s leadership and have proposed that, instead of litigation, Rider and the Coalition begin discussions to return Westminster to its former status as an independent educational institution.” McMorris continued, “We believe good faith discussions like this can aid Rider in its financial future while preserving Westminster Choir College as an independent, world-class cultural institution.”

The coalition will be forwarding a written proposal to Rider’s board and executive committee, and expects to meet again with Rider’s leadership team within 30 days.

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.

  • William M

    Bruce Afran, the phony who blocked Princeton’s 911 Memorial? RIP Westminster.

  • TaxPoorInPrinceton

    what does that mean?

  • Dan D’Menny

    Especially when Eleanor Lewis’ estate is paying him.

  • TaxPoorInPrinceton

    Is it crazy to think there could be 2000 people who would contribute $10,000 each to raise the $20 million Rider seeks? Perhaps a crowdsourcing campaign?

  • Cecie

    Mr. Afran is a rare legal talent…principled, effective, and not afraid of big money, special interests, or the endless private favors that often mark Princeton real estate issues. Best of luck to the Coalition.

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