Princeton Theological Seminary has filed a suit against Rider University in New Jersey Superior Court to stop the sale of Westminster Choir College.
The suit contends that Rider University’s current attempt to sell Westminster Choir College disregard the school’s obligations to Princeton Theological Seminary and the conditions set
by the original donor of the land.
In the 1930s, Sophia Strong Taylor donated property in Princeton to Westminster Choir College. Taylor named Princeton Seminary as a steward of this gift, stipulating that the ownership of the land would shift to Princeton Theological Seminary if Westminster ever ceased to operate as a choir college, according to the lawsuit.
In the 1990s, Westminster sought to merge with Rider University because of a financial crisis. At Westminster’s request, Princeton Theological Seminary then entered into legal agreements that enabled the merger, with the understanding that Rider would serve Westminster’s mission, according to the lawsuit.
The seminary contends that Rider’s attempt to sell the school to an undisclosed buyer does not
honor the substance of various agreements that were intended to protect Taylor’s wishes when she donated the land to the choir college.
“We have repeatedly attempted to engage Rider on these issues as news of the proposed sale emerged, but we have been kept at arm’s length,” said Craig Barnes, president of the Seminary. “We don’t take this legal action lightly, but we have had no choice but to ask the court to intervene. We are hopeful that this matter will come to resolution quickly and fairly, in a manner that honors our institutional agreements and preserves Mrs. Taylor’s intent.”
Rider University issued a statement about the lawsuit on Tuesday afternoon.
“We have been in conversations with the seminary for approximately a year in regards to their note and mortgage on the Westminster property. We are disappointed they felt the need to file suit at this time, which we believe to be premature,” reads the statement. “Rider’s main focus has been to find an entity to continue running Westminster in Princeton. It has been our intention when we achieved that goal to return to discussions with the seminary to address its demand for a share of the net proceeds, to the extent there are any. Rider has supported and sustained Westminster Choir College since 1991, when the seminary declined to do so. Rider will not allow this lawsuit to derail its efforts to find a new partner to continue running Westminster.”