Planet Princeton

Former Governor Tom Kean named honorary chairman of Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College (updated)

Gov. Tom Kean (r) with Princeton lawyer Bruce Afran. Gov. Kean has been named the honorary chairman of the Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College. Photo: Krystal Knapp.

Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, a beloved governor of the Garden State, said today that he will do whatever he can to help save Westminster Choir College and keep the school in Princeton.

Rider University plans to sell the campus and school. A coalition has been formed to try to save the school, the Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton, Kean has been named the honorary chairman. The coalition has also hired lawyer Bruce Afran to fight the closure of the school or relocation to another town.

“Westminster is such a gem, but unfortunately I think people value it more outside the state sometimes than people do inside the state,” Kean told reporters at a press conference Friday afternoon across from the choir college. “I talk to musical organizations outside of New Jersey. They treasure Westminster as a wonderful, wonderful organization. We should do the same in New Jersey,”

The arts are treasures that are important to life, he said.

“People don’t come here just to live. The people who live around here live here because they like the cultural institutions here,” he said. “They like them as part of their life. It brings people and brings businesses.

Kean said Westminster needs to be saved. “It is a wonderful, wonderful institution that is known worldwide. If New York were about to lose Julliard, we would hear about it so much. We should hear the same thing in New Jersey,” he said.

The best possible alternative for Rider University would be to find a solution to keep Westminster in Princeton, Kean said. “It is where it has flourished, and where it should be,” he said. “It is the best possible solution.”

Kean said he recognizes the challenges schools like Rider face, having served as the president of a private university himself. People should help Rider solve its other problems.

“I don’t think the solution is to cut off its most vital parts,” he said. “There have to be other solutions. This is a jewel. This is a gem of a school. All of us should be proud it is here and we should support it any way we can.”

Westminster is connected with so many other institutions and organizations in Princeton, Kean and other supporters of the school said.

Kean wrote an editorial in support of Westminster this winter when he learned Rider was considering selling the school, and about 10 days ago coalition representatives contacted him asking him if he would like to get involved in their efforts. He said he has not talked to officials at Rider University yet.

“If my voice will be of help, I’m here to help you,” former Gov. Tom Kean told Westminster Choir College supporters today.

A supporter if the arts in New Jersey when he was governor, Kean, who is now 82, said the arts are an important economic engine for towns and the state. “Every study I know of shows how important the arts are for the economy,” Kean said. “When New York City was looking at ways to boost the economy they considered highlighting tourist attractions but were told the most valuable thing to highlight was the arts because of the economic value.”

Area residents like to attend cultural events close to home given the high cost of going into the city and purchasing tickets to a performance there, he said, citing recent stories about the skyrocketing price of premium Broadway tickets, which can cost $700 to $800. Tickets sell for even higher prices if they are bought through online re-sellers.

“People don’t always want to go to New York City,” Kean said. “People move to a place not just because of the schools, but also because of the community and the cultural opportunities.”

Kean also said the arts are needed more than ever in the challenging times we live in.

“If my voice will be of help, I’m here to help you,” Kean said. “If I can help you in any way, I will.”

This story is part one of a series on the Westminster Choir College in Princeton. Next in the series: Lawyer vows long battle in the courts if choir college is shut down or moved from Princeton campus.

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.

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