Former NJ Gov. Tom Kean backs opposition to sale of Westminster Choir College

Supporters of Westminster Choir College have a powerful advocate in former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, who is calling on Rider University to preserve the historic music school in downtown Princeton.

Kean is scheduled to visit the college at noon tomorrow to talk about his opposition to Rider’s proposed sale of the internationally known school. He will be joined by members of the Rider University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the Coalition To Save Westminster Choir College, students, alumni, donors, parents and supporters of the school.

The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College is seeking to make the school independent again and has hired lawyer Bruce Afran to fight the sale of the school. Rider University officials announced plans to sell the school in the spring, citing projected deficits at the university in Lawrenceville and the need to upgrade buildings on the main campus. The Princeton Public Schools district is trying to buy the choir college campus.

In an editorial this spring, Kean criticized school officials seeking quick cash “even if that means destroying the very institutions that define the school.”

“Experts suggest the property could bring in as much as $25 million, but Rider’s issues are so significant, those dollars would only be a stopgap measure in addressing the current crisis, while destroying Westminster as we know it,” Kean wrote. “The destruction of Westminster’s campus and the relocation of a vibrant and economically secure college is destructive and, in and by itself, will not save Rider.”

Kean said when he was governor, he took pride in supporting the arts and is aware of what Westminster brings to Princeton, its students and faculty, and visiting performing artists. As a past president of Drew University, he said he also recognizes the economic issues facing Rider University.

“As it looks for a means to an unclear end, Rider is considering putting the arts aside, taking an expedient course of action dictated by accountants. Rider is a fine school; it should sit down with a growing and potent national coalition representing Westminster Choir College alumni and its allies. Together, they need to explore how Rider may fund its future without destroying the integrity of a vibrant and respected New Jersey cultural institution and damaging its own reputation,” he wrote.

“It is unimaginable to me that this historic space that has given so much to so many could be closed,” he wrote. “There are precious few places in the nation and around the world where the music lives. Westminster Choir College is one of them, and it remains one of the central pillars upon which we have built the arts in New Jersey.”