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 The cuts were rescinded after significant faculty concessions followed by further, deeper concessions from faculty in bargaining for the 2017-2020 contract.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.