Planet Princeton

Rider University sends layoff notices to entire teaching staff at Westminster Choir College

Westminster Choir College faculty members received layoff notices from Rider University via email yesterday. All of the professors at the world-renowned school will be laid off as of Aug. 31.

The layoff notices anticipate the sale of the entire college next spring to an undisclosed buyer, or the school’s potential closure. The potential buyer is described publicly only as an Asian corporation that runs for-profit K-12 schools. The buyer has no accreditation in higher education.

The local chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the faculty union, will file a grievance arguing that the layoffs fail to meet contractual requirements, representatives said. The agreement with the union specifies that layoffs can occur only in cases of “financial exigency or the demonstrated financial need to eliminate or curtail programs or courses of instruction to protect the well-being of the university.”

Jeffrey Halpern, a sociology professor who is chief grievance officer for the union, said Rider has no financial emergency. “This year’s independent audited financial statement found a $5.5 million increase in net assets.” he said. He expects the grievance will be referred to arbitration.

“Faculty also condemn the secretive nature of a sale process in which they’ve had no voice and that violates the AAUP’s national standards for mergers and acquisitions,” he said.

Faculty members said they will be organizing direct actions to protest the administration’s decision.

Rider University President Gregory Dell’Omo announced elimination of faculty positions and programs of study on the main campus in Lawrenceville. The cuts were rescinded after significant faculty concessions followed by further, deeper concessions from faculty in bargaining for the 2017-2020 contract. The faculty gave Dell’Omo a no-confidence vote in the spring.

Last December, school officials announced that the Westminster Choir College property would be sold. School officials said the top priority would be to sell the school to a buyer who would maintain the choir college on the Princeton campus.

Two lawsuits have been filed to stop the closure of the school or the sale to a buyer who will not maintain the choir college.

The 23-acre choir college campus has been in downtown Princeton since 1932. The is also the headquarters of the Westminster Conservatory, one of the nation’s largest community music schools. The conservatory provides private music lessons and classes to hundreds of children and adults at five locations across the region.

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.

  • sandyeg@wfu.edu

    You are correct regarding Rider’s decline in enrollment.

  • TaxPoorInPrinceton

    Regarding the for-profit question: The for-profit corporation based in China can have a non-profit subentity based in Princeton to run the school. The profits can be funneled to the for-profit corporation.

  • Liz Winslow

    Sorry if this is a duplicate reply. Briefer than the first: intent is not to sound snide, or argue WCC has no value as it is, or that Rider is doing the right thing. I’m looking at what folks upthread say will be done – put a for profit school in – and then at that point it is no longer nfp, right? And in the context of that train of thought I’m seeing a lot of implicit dislike of Asians by several posters, and that i feel is appropriate to call out.

  • Liz Winslow

    The conversation a moment ago was about a for profit school taking it over. If it’s for profit, why is it an untruth to say that at that point it would still be not for profit?

    So we’re clear, I’m not arguing that WCC has no value as it is, or even that it’s getting a fair shake from Rider. My issue is that this thread (not necessarily your personal posts) has been riddled with insinuations about too many Asians in town, and that i think is fair and appropriate to call out.

    Apologies if i seemed snide; i am focusing on the reality of what’s going to happen, not arguing whether it’s the intrinsically right thing to do. But if a for profit school is what happens, a little less generalized xenophobia would be nice.

  • TaxPoorInPrinceton

    Why do you keep promoting this untruth about taxes? There is no tax revenue that is going to be raised as it will still be a non-profit campus.

    And please stop being snide. WCC is financially stable and the original merger agreement called for Rider to preserve it and its mission. It appears now that Rider is going to disregard that commitment and vandalize a nationally significant institution.

    It is not WCC’s responsibility to find a suitor to keep it from being destroyed. That is what the original merger agreement was supposed to provide. As an analogy, it’s not my fault if you want to commit the crime of burning down my house. That appears to be what Rider’s administration is doing.

  • Liz Winslow

    Yes Tax Poor, I understand you want WCC to remain in its current form. Unless you can help it find a patron, you’re out of luck, and you need to accept what is. Funny that some whose handle complains about taxes is complaining about a move that would raise revenue not from residents.

  • TaxPoorInPrinceton

    Why do you think they will be paying taxes?

    The concern is because a foreign for-profit company is unlikely to sustain a non-profit prestigious music school for very long.

  • TaxPoorInPrinceton

    Yes, PPS proposed a plan. But the current situation has nothing to do with PPS.

    Rider is choosing a path to almost certainly gut WCC when there are other paths available. WCC is financially stable, according to the figures. What is making you so outraged here?

  • Liz Winslow

    I’d be willing to roll the dice on that vs. Steve Cochrane’s grand plan to float $90 million in bonds in his Manifest Destiny endeavor to acquire WCC that will shove a lot of middle income homeowners out of town between increased property taxes and decreased ability to deduct them if certain administrations get their way. Terminate Cranbury, have one lean year between the lack of Cranbury remittance and retirement of current bonds, solve the overcrowding problem at PHS, rehab Valley Road, and let WCC do WCC. Maybe Princeton could try rolling with the financially realistic punches? It’s like people think money is just going to fall from the sky to make WCC financially viable. It hasn’t, and it won’t.

  • Liz Winslow

    Can you quantify these students, or is this a rumor? And in any event, if the students are properly domiciled in a house paying taxes, why are the owners of that house paying those taxes not entitled to access to the public school?

    Let’s also remember that nobody can just get off a plane and enroll. There’s a bit more paperwork involved than that. Plus, where’s your commitment to diversity?

    Let’s be really real here: if the students were from Latin America or SubSaharan Africa or the Mideast (anywhere but Asia), would you either a) make this allegation at all or b) simply note that it’s a great way to be inclusive?

  • Liz Winslow

    What you’re describing is a house purchased, taxes paid, and a child going to school. Unless you don’t like Chinese people, where’s the problem?

  • Liz Winslow

    As a graduate of a local boarding school, I can assure you that it was quite popular 30 years ago for wealthy foreigners to pay full freight to private schools. This in turn subsidized tuition and financial aid for other students.

    What you’re describing is… a private school that will pay taxes to Princeton and will have a wealthy student body who will shop locally, and will take nothing from the PPS budget at that. Thus, unless your underlying meaning is that you don’t want more Asians in town, I fail to see how your “concern” makes any sense at all.

  • Dan D’Menny

    Please don’t doubt that “public” education is a pretty big “business” for the NJ teachers, administrators, and parents as well.

    1.4m public school kids in NJ x $22k/kid-year > $30billion annually.

    Most Princeton/ WWindsor/ Plainsboro/ Montgomery have figured the exceptional value they/we get from the schools into the large prices they/we pay for our homes.

  • powertotax

    You are being too nice. This is an abuse of the public school system. People have actually complained about these kind of abuse with the PPS. But the investigation promised by the superintendent never yield any results (maybe never happen at all).

  • markpkessinger

    Westminster is not the one in poor financial condition, but in fact is quite solvent. Rider is another story. But, as a Westminster alumnus (class of ’83), this is what I feared would eventually happen from the moment the merger with Rider was announced in 1992: that Westminster, and the pricey Princeton real estate on which it sits, would be viewed as just another disposable asset in Rider’s portfolio. So what we have is a solvent, world-class institution with a unique footprint among the nation’s music conservatories being liquidated and destroyed in order to prop up the declining fortunes of a never-better-than-mediocre business school.

  • Haha

    And now that I think about it, it wouldn’t shock me if some of the houses you mentioned get rented straight to the host families who house the students who are here without their parents and attend Princeton public schools.

    It’s difficult to overstate how big of a business education, particularly education in the West, is in China.

  • Haha

    This is true. There is another thing I’ve noticed in the past few years. Students from Mainland China come to Princeton without their parents. They live with families inside the district who are paid by the Chinese families to provide them with room and board and be their “guardians.” I know of multiple kids at JW and PHS who fit this description.

    I’m not sure about how good that practice is for kids who are still in their formative years. I guess it depends on the quality of the paid host families. It’s an interesting use of the public school system, anyway.

  • markpkessinger

    Let’s be clear about what is going on here: a world-class music institution is being sold off to prop up the fortunes of a very mediocre university. What a travesty!

  • Lisa

    I’ve seen something that rings a similar bell in tracking real estate sales in the neighborhood of PHS – multiple offers from buyers in mainland China with a young child: house purchased, then rented out until the child is middle-school-age, at which point the family arrives to see the kid through his/her “Princeton High School” years in the American system. Two houses on my street (Jefferson) have been sold this way in the past few months.

  • TaxPoorInPrinceton

    I think the negative long-term consequences here are not being sufficiently recognized by the town. It’s hard not to see that 10 years down the road, that WCC will be very different from how it is now and we will have a for-profit, mostly foreign-student campus, in the middle of our town. WCC has been a very active part of the community and has enriched the town. It’s hard to see how that continues with the details that have been revealed.

  • common decency

    Yes, there are definitely other priorities. When the president of the university complains that there was “too much singing” during the commencement exercises of a world-renowned choir college, there is a real disconnect.

  • common decency

    Inflexible? Give me a break. Just this summer, faculty agreed to concessions totaling $6.5 million a year! Perhaps Greg Dell’Omo should be flexible about his $800,000 per year salary!

  • common decency

    Actually, WCC has been profitable over the past several years. It is Rider who has suffered a decline in enrollment. The financial reports used to justify these actions have been called into question due to the discovery some “unconventional” accounting methods. You haven’t heard the last of this.

  • powertotax

    This will be a tragic loss for the community. At the same time, I wonder how WCC ended up with the financial condition it is in today.

  • Jane

    I’m not sure if “jobs in the Rider Music department” were offered, but to consolidate on the Lawrenceville campus has enormous up-front costs that need to be in place before any classes could happen. There’s the obvious regular classroom and dorm space, but then there is the unusual needs of WCC’s programs: acoustically adequate practice facilities, performance facilities, music labs, student practice rooms, and faculty offices. These don’t exist on the Lawrenceville campus and would have to be built first. $$$ Additionally, WCC has 165 pianos and 21 pipe organs that would need to be moved and installed. If the space is already built to accommodate it, the cost of moving one pipe organ “can be as cheap as $30,000!” or $630,000 in this case, double that at least if the spaces half to be modified first.

    What the administration should have been doing all this time, is marketing Rider along with Westminster’s international and national reputation while recruiting at high schools across the country. An additional 10 students at around $50,000 each, is half a million each year!

  • FormerESLteacher

    Hmmm. Very interesting. About a year ago China banned for-profit education for the equivalent of grades 1-9. Maybe one of the affected corporations are shipping some operations over here.

    If Planet Princeton wants to do a little digging, my money would be on the mysterious corporation being one of the following:

    -New Oriental Education and Tech Group (EDU on the NYSE)

    -TAL Education (XRS)

    -Tarena Education: (TEDU)

    -Nord Anglia (NORD)

    The one I’m most familiar with is New Oriental. Some years back they got into it with ETS, who accused them of supplying their students with the questions before the GRE. There was a more recent investigation into their practices surrounding college essay writing. (Basically they were paying people to write the essays for their clients.- allegedly.) If it is New Oriental who are buying Westminster, let’s hope they plan to run a cleaner business in Princeton.

  • Sally Barrett Hight

    I totally agree. I used to work at a private Christian school that had exchange students from different Asian countries and I bet they realized how much money those parents are paying to American schools and want in on the profits.

  • I bet you are absolutely, positively right. Yikes.

  • How is this legal? at all?
    I am really weeping now. Westminster Choir College gave me some of the best grad courses I ever took.

  • Dan D’Menny

    This is tragic for those Westminster professionals who are so dedicated to their craft, yet have been inflexible when it comes to the efforts of Rider University to find some semblance of financial stability in the challenging market of private higher education.

    Maybe a job in the Music Dept at Rider in Lawrence doesn’t look so bad after all.

  • Dan D’Menny

    And that is probably the only way to get enough value from the Princeton location to justify continued use of the land for its stipulated use . . . as a school.

    To continue the conservatory, it would be far more economically efficient to consolidate at Rider in Lawrence, and then sell the land for its highest financial use (high-end residences). But the Boro of Princeton won’t let that happen . . . the community wants the school to be perpetuated. So it will be, sort of, by those who can extract maximum value from its Princeton location.

  • geoffrey2k

    “top priority would be to sell the school to a buyer who would maintain the choir college on the Princeton campus.”

    It’s a pretty big fail to not achieve your top priority. Makes one think that other items were actually more important. Much more important.

  • geoffrey2k

    This is going well….

  • MusicLover

    “An Asian corporation that runs for-profit k-12 schools…”
    I have some experience with that part of the world and the education system there. Here’s an educated guess what the new Westminster will be: A boarding school for Chinese “Parachute Kids” (Google) whose newly rich parents want to send them to here to improve their English and increase their chances of admission to a US university. No doubt the for-profit institution will milk the fact that it’s located in the same town as Princeton University for everything it’s worth.

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