According to students at Westminster Choir College, the move to Rider University’s Lawrenceville campus has not lived up to promises made when officials decided to close the Princeton campus. Students at the choir college have started a petition calling on school officials to either provide them with proper performance facilities or reopen the former Princeton campus.
In the fall of 2020, Rider University moved the choir college from Princeton, which was considered one of the top music colleges in the world, to the Lawrenceville campus. The Municipality of Princeton is now renting parking lot space there for permit parking for employees of businesses in Princeton. Students and faculty say enrollment at the choir college in Lawrenceville is now about a quarter of what it was in Princeton.
Officials at Rider University have been trying to sell the Princeton property for more than three years. Interested parties so far over the past few years have included developers, developers who want to preserve the college and only develop a small portion of the property, and the Princeton Public Schools, in partnership with the Municipality of Princeton. There are two lawsuits pending over the potential sale of the school. One was filed by students and alumni who are challenging the university’s right to sell the campus. A second lawsuit filed by Princeton Theological Seminary contends that Rider University’s attempt to sell Westminster Choir College disregards the school’s obligations to Princeton Theological Seminary and the conditions set by the original donor of the land.
Students at the choir college say the administration at Rider University has failed to keep its promises about offering expanded facilities and more support on the university’s Lawrenceville campus. The 130 students and recent graduates who have signed the petition so far say they are concerned about their education, their institution, the effects inadequate facilities have on their education, the value that of their degrees when they graduate, and the quality of support they receive from the university administration.
“When the Rider University administration chose to move Westminster Choir College to the Lawrenceville campus in 2020, we were promised better facilities, including an addition to the Fine Arts building, increased support for various performing arts programs including choral, opera, musical theater, and dance. The move was made with promises to build a premierﬁne arts building, with more practice rooms, teaching studios, performance facilities, dance studios, oﬃces for music faculty, and accommodations for everyone taking courses in the Westminster College of the Arts and Westminster Choir College,” reads the petition. “As we near the end of the fall 2021 semester, we have yet to see what was promised. We, the students of Westminster Choir College, chose to attend, despite the pandemic, despite the uncertainty of the move, and to put our trust in the institution and administration. However, it is clear that we are not going to receive what was promised to us by Rider University.“
Students say they have inadequate facilities with leaking ceilings, water damage and mold, poor quality pianos that are out of tune and not maintained, and rehearsal and performance spaces that are inadequate in size and have poor acoustics. “Coupled with the lack of proper communication from the administration and poor alumni relations, this has caused most students to withdraw or transfer to other institutions. The dramatic decrease in enrollment has resulted in smaller ensembles, fewer performance opportunities, and ensembles cut from the program. Poor scheduling and the constant threat of courses being canceled due to low enrollment have led to further erosion of the program,” reads the petition.
The union for faculty members at Rider, the American Association of University Professors, is supporting the choir college students and their petition.
“The university’s faculty strongly supports our students and alumni in their efforts to persuade the administration to give Westminster Choir College the support it promised,” Union President Barbara Franz said. “The students have legitimate complaints, complaints that could all be addressed by simply reopening the Princeton campus. Such a move would undoubtedly help dismiss the litany of lawsuits facing Rider University for the ill-conceived decision to move the choir college to the Lawrenceville campus that the administration unilaterally made three years ago.”
According to the union, reduced enrollment has stripped over $13 million dollars from Rider University’s annual revenues and the university has accumulated over $20 million in additional debt building new facilities in Lawrenceville while the Princeton campus sits empty.
Rider Spokeswoman Kristine Brown said the university welcomes all feedback from students on their experience at Rider.
“Given the opportunity to investigate and respond to such concerns, we are extremely confident in our ability to resolve them to the satisfaction of students, faculty, and staff,” reads the statement. “Ensuring our facilities meet or hopefully exceed expectations is a constant focus. That’s why we worked closely with industry experts to create or adapt practice rooms, performance spaces, classrooms, and more on the Lawrenceville campus, including the same acoustic consultants who worked on Hillman Performance Hall on the Princeton campus. This fall, audiences have enthusiastically greeted new recordings by Westminster choirs and their long-awaited return to live performance. We are fully dedicated to maintaining the high level of artistry and musical expression that makes such events — and Westminster’s unique legacy — possible.”