Judge rules in favor of Rider University in two lawsuits as Westminster Choir College students and alumni vow to appeal decision

Mercer County Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy on Monday dismissed two cases filed by Westminster Choir College students and alumni who argue that Rider University shouldn’t be able to move the choir college from Princeton and sell the property.

A spokesperson for some of the plaintiffs, Constance Fee of the Westminster Choir College Foundation, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon indicating that her group has no plans to give up the fight to save the college and keep it at its current location in Princeton.

“We stated before the ruling was announced that no matter what the court’s decision, we would take the next steps in the legal process. The judge ruled that we do have standing,” Fee said. “This is just the opening salvo in the fight to save Westminster Choir College and keep it on its Princeton campus. An appeal will be filed immediately by Westminster Foundation attorney Bruce Afran on behalf of the plaintiffs in both cases.”

The two cases are Victoria Vazquez, et al., and Howard McMorris, et al. A decision in a separate lawsuit filed by Princeton Theological Seminary that also challenges the sale is still pending.

Rider University officials issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon saying that the judge’s decision affirms Rider’s “long-held confidence” in its legal position. They said the decision will allow the university to “focus even more of its efforts and resources on ensuring a strong and sustainable future for Westminster Choir College and Rider.” 

 “Much work already is underway to successfully transition Westminster’s programs to Lawrenceville, and much work remains,” said Rider University President, Gregory Dell’Omo. “The transition will be achieved most successfully if we work together as a community, offering one another strength and support as we move forward. And we must move forward. Now is the time for every member of our community to look ahead to the future with hope, confidence and resolution. We recognize that while change can be unsettling, it is sometimes necessary, and it can lead to new possibilities.” 

Rider University officials contend that the relocation of Westminster to Lawrenceville will fulfill Rider’s vision to “elevate and enhance all of the university’s arts and music programs in ways that will create new opportunities and serve the needs of 21st-century students.” 

“We believe strongly in that vision, and we believe strongly in Westminster Choir College and its unique cultural contribution to the world,” Dell’Omo said. “We are working hard to continue those contributions to ensure a strong and sustainable future for Westminster Choir College.” 

Rider officials announced in July of 2019 that the Rider Board of Trustees had approved a plan to integrate Westminster Choir College into the university’s existing Lawrenceville campus beginning in September of 2020. Behind the scenes, Princeton Public Schools officials have been trying to figure out a way to buy the property since Rider announced that a deal to sell the property to a Chinese company fell through.

One Comment

  1. What Rider has done is despicable. The property Westminster sits on was donated by a wealthy woman on condition that if it were to ever cease to be used as a choir college, the land would then be turned over to the Princeton Theological Seminary. Rider got Westminster for a song in part because of this restriction, and now is attempting to void the restriction and cash in by selling this beautiful Princeton ornament to the highest bidder for probable tear-down. It would not surprise me if Rider got a legal opinion stating Rider had a good chance of getting away with this even before it took over Westminster. Rider has also done everything possible to ensure that Westminster will not be a viable proposition if and when the dispute is resolved. Rider’s administrators should be embarrassed to look in the mirror.

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