A Chinese company that was slated to purchase Westminster Choir College from Rider University has decided to call off the $40 million deal.
The board of directors for Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co., Ltd. voted unanimously on June 28, 7-0, not to move forward with plans to purchase the choir college, which is located in Princeton. Last year, the company signed a sales agreement to purchase the college as part of plans to establish subsidiaries in order to acquire assets overseas. Company representatives did not elaborate on the reasons for calling off the purchase, but said more information would be provided on July 1.
It is unclear what role the New Jersey Attorney General’s office played in the decision to call off the deal. On June 20, a representative for the state wrote a letter to Judge Paul Innes regarding two court cases related to the sale of the choir college detailing difficulties the state has had obtaining information and documents from Rider about the sale. The attorney general’s office sent additional questions to Rider that were directed to Kaiwen Education last month regarding Chinese corporate governance, Chinese accounting standards, and potential conflicts of interest of the board members of the buyer’s various affiliated entities and consultants. Kaiwen submitted answers on June 15. The state found the information insufficient, and some of the answers conflicted with previous responses, officials said, adding that the inability to obtain documents hampered the state’s review process.
“Specifically, the buyer notes that, despite repeated attempts, it has been unable to obtain conflict of interest forms from multiple consultants,” reads the June 20 letter. “Moreover, the state asked for the names of the trustees of the non-profit acquiring entity in Chinese characters and for biographical details concerning these trustees. While the buyer provided the Chinese characters for some names, it did not do so for all. Without the Chinese characters, the state cannot do further research.”
Bruce Afran, a Princeton lawyer who represents a group called the Westminster Foundation that has been trying to stop the sale of the school, said Kaiwen Education’s decision not to move forward with the sale is a major victory for those who want the choir college to continue. “We’re hoping Rider officials come to their senses and they go back to business as usual at the choir college,” Afran said.
A spokeswoman for Rider University would not confirm Sunday that the deal was off, but said school officials would be issuing information about the future of Westminster Choir College to the school community and the press on Monday.
In an open letter to the board of trustees for Rider University last week, Constance Fee of the Westminster Foundation informed the board that the plaintiffs would consider an end to the litigation process if Rider officials make a commitment to responsibly operate of the choir college. She said she never received a response to her letter.
“Any continued effort to sell the school or the campus will result in a move in court to separate Westminster from Rider University, and transfer the choir college to an independent board or appoint a special master to secure a new charitable steward for the choir college,” Fee said.
Some choir college supporters fear that Rider University officials will decide to move the Westminster Choir College students to the main campus in Lawrence and try to sell the Princeton campus to a developer or the local school district. Afran said in a phone interview Sunday that his clients will fight any such move. Another lawsuit will be filed on behalf of tenured faculty at Rider and Westminster if university officials decide to sell the choir college campus, Afran said.
“The litigation will expand and become much worse if they attempt to sell the campus,” Afran said. “We would move to take the school away from them. A termination of Westminster would be an abandonment of Rider’s duties of stewardship and the foundation would immediately move to separate Westminster Choir College from Rider University.”
Afran said that if Rider doesn’t want to run the school, numerous organizations would welcome a merger and take over the operation of the school — just not for the price Rider wants for the property. Another possible scenario would be for the choir college to become independent, he said. If another group or foundation takes over the operation of the choir college, it is possible some land could be sold to the school district, he said.
“But any proposal to sell the campus and move the school is dead on arrival,” Afran said. “Also, I doubt that the local school board wants to be known as the entity that killed the choir college.”