Chinese company withdraws from deal to buy Westminster Choir College in Princeton

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.”

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4 comments
  • GREAT! Princeton can now purchase the lad and develop the property as low income housing.

  • Good News
    By
    W Liam Allan-Dalgleish
    This is Great News! Big Ben Strikes. In the near future, Fireworks will celebrate the clawback of Westminster Choir College from the Chinese Communists, and from the clutches of the greedy not far from here. Early on, I pointed out the intimate connection of Kaiwen with the Communist takeover of parts of the American educational system—that such would not bode well for Westminster.
    We once had in Princeton a fine newspaper dating to before the Revolution and called the PRINCETON PACKET, to which, over the years, I submitted various pieces about education. The last one I submitted can’t exactly be called research, but it represented my look at Kaiwen, the Chinese Politburo, and how it all tied in with Westminster. The editor of the new PRINCETON PACKET told me that he had to consult with the owner. This led to endless foot dragging. It was fairly clear that they needed the space for advertising. Hence the op-ed piece never got published, but the information it contained became available, perhaps through the synopses I sent to one of the Westminster faculty.
    I worked at Westminster for over thirty-five years. One thing taken with another, it was close to the best educational experience of my life, and I have been a Fulbright scholar at the University of Vienna, studied at Harvard, Indiana, Illinois, NYU, State at Stony Brook Universities etc. (yes, to use that illiterate phrase, I’m establishing my bona fides).
    There were many problems at “lil’ ol’ Westminster,” not the least of which was the bifurcation that obtained in the direction the college wanted to take and wanted to present to the public. To build an analogy, it was like living in a town run by Donald Trump (a man who went as far as other people’s talents would carry him; I had to get a lawyer to stop him from publishing my work; not Dean Annis or successors) and this man’s supporters, on the one hand, and a group of Lord Bertrand Russell clones on the other.
    Despite the problems, I myself saw a chance to put into effect the ideals of many of my educational heroes, like William James, the aforementioned Russell, the faculty of Black Mountain College Before the expropriation of Westminster by Rider, I worked hard, with others, through articles in the PACKET and by diverse other means, to make the college work. To this day, I am convinced that “little ol’ Westminster” could have remained solvent had some reasonable reforms been put into place in time. But, like the country herself, the obvious was often forbidden, even to be mentioned. These things are in the past, however, and I am dealing with them quite amusingly in my book, ADVENTURES IN PRINCETON (And Other, Lesser Places). A few observations about right now:
    1. Rider had this con job in mind from the beginning. Rider has shown itself unworthy and ineffectual in dealing with this magnificent institution;
    2. the best solution available then would have been to go with Yale University, which offered to move the Choir College to its campus. Ideally, Princeton University would leave the hauteur of Wilson and others behind (perhaps it has already done so), recognize that there are musicians and scholars of worth outside the sanctified walls, and work up some cooperative arrangement with Westminster, something that’s not just show;
    3. it’s funny that there could appear an article in the DAILY PRINCETONIAN written by Three Gentleman of Princeton, who, drunk, met a young lady from the Choir College, and, as described in their article, a knockoff of Joseph Conrad, undertook a trek “upriver” with her to the Heart of Darkness, the outback of Princeton and, discovering there a time-forgotten , proto-civilization; an outpost both curious and a little scary because so far away from the safety of the campus—a school called Westminster Choir College. Curiously, then, only after the school is about to go under, only when Princeton thinks it might lose one of its “Cultural” baubles, does anyone give a god-damn about what is going to happen to “little old Westminster;”
    4. going forward, Rider must be disbarred from any contact with Westminster Choir College. The town of Princeton certainly has the wherewithal to establish, at a minimum, an emergency fund to help an independent Westminster, but even better a trust fund, or whatever it’s called, to support the daily operation of the school; one possibility is to talk to the NY-Philharmonic and the Philadelphia-Orchestra people about how they feel, getting free professional rehearsal and performance time, which essentially is what it is;
    5. finally, a word about “little ol’ me.” I devoted blood sweat and tears to that place. Shortly before I “retired,” (that or worse, a breakdown) an official examination of my income, of my real income after over twenty-five years of teaching, stood just south of $25,000; on this, I was to support an agoraphobic mother and a child, as a single parent.
    Yes, William Scheide was a nice man, typical of many amateurs around Princeton, but he was an easy mark for said leader of the Choir College (one person went to prison over financial mismanagement), and none of the contributions of Scheide made over the years, went to help the low pay of the faculty—not one thin dime.
    I will not mention his name, though I don’t think he would mind: It was Christmastime. I was walking up the stairs in Williamson Hall where the Business Office used to be, and I met him. He was standing stark still, staring at his check. Tears rolled down his cheeks and he didn’t even notice me. He was mumbling: “It’s not enough. It’s not enough!” Today, that man is a millionaire. But the Choir College lost an outstanding teacher. I admire him. But I had no choice.
    Had this stab-in-the-back sale gone forward, it was my intention to file a fat- chance lean against Kaiwen and Rider for the many years we, the faculty, did not get pay raises, were promised that they would be made up, and inevitably ended up with promises that were “no longer operative.” Every month, I am hundreds of dollars short and it must be made up by my son. Still. No regrets. But. . . . What da you think?
    W. Liam Allan-Dalgleish

  • Dear Paul. You may not want to speak of things of which you no nothing about. The foundation has played their cards very close to the chest as to not ruin their chances for the future of the choir college. Just sit back and enjoy the upcoming ride.

  • While Rider’s handling of the disposition of WCC has been despicable, the supposed sincerity of those who oppose WCC’s sale or, indeed, any change from the status quo is equally suspect or if true, incomprehensibly confounding. Once again, the Keep WCC in Princeton crowd claims that there are acceptable purchasers, partners, or operators of WCC, but after nearly 3 years have yet to provide the identity of even one. How can they not understand the old maxim “You can’t get blood out of a stone” Parent of WCC ’20 student.

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