HowardMcMorris_and_MonaDavids

“I’m very grateful to Rider for having done the merger, and I know for a fact that it cost Rider much more money to keep the Choir College going in the 1990s than Rider had counted on,” said Howard McMorris, a former Westminster trustee who sits on an advisory council at the school. “So without Rider’s having come in, there would be no Choir College today.”

Rider University will sever its 25-year-relationship with Westminster Choir College by seeking a buyer for its music school and its Princeton campus or potentially just to acquire the school alone, Rider trustees decided Tuesday.

The decision, coming during a trustees meeting earlier in the day at Rider, ended months of speculation about what the university intended to do with Westminster. Trustees ruled out the possibility of moving Westminster to the main Rider campus in Lawrenceville or simply continuing the status quo.

“And so the decision made today was the board authorized the university to seek out a new partner for Westminster Choir College as we go forward,” said university President Gregory G. Dell’Omo at a news conference on campus. “Everybody’s interest, first and foremost, is how do you preserve the legacy of Westminster Choir College. That is critical.”

Rider has hired a firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to help the university locate potential suitors, in the next year. Dell’Omo said there have been “preliminary inquiries” from other institutions about the music school, but he declined to identify them. He left open the door for higher education, international and even for-profit institutions emerging.

“But we are pretty confident that there’s going to be a fair level of interest in people wanting to talk to us about Westminster Choir College,” Dell’Omo said. “And one of the things I can say, at this early stage in the game, is we would love to find a partner who could help preserve and enhance the tradition and excellence of Westminster as it currently exists.”

In terms of a selling price, Dell’Omo said Rider had a “range” in mind, but he did not elaborate. Asked what happens if no buyer emerges, he said the university would re-evaluate that issue at the time.

In terms of the different scenarios, Rider will look for an institution willing to buy Westminster and the campus to keep the school in Princeton. Another possibility is the suitor only wants to acquire the school, which then would leave Rider to sell the campus to a third party, Dell’Omo said.

Princeton University, seen in some quarters as an obvious possbility, will not be among the suitors. University spokeswoman Min Pullan said Tuesday that Princeton is “not a potential buyer” of Westminster.

She said acquiring Westminster “is not in line with our mission.”

For the municipality, there had been interest in what happens to the more than 20-acre property.

“We’re committed to working with Rider University to ensure that whatever happens with the site is in the best interests of the community,” Mayor Liz Lempert said Tuesday.

Westminster, a once private music school, has been located in Princeton since the 1930s. The school teetered on the brink of closing in the late 1980s, but it became a part of Rider in 1992. Now in the 25th anniversary of that merger, that relationship is breaking up.

“I’m very grateful to Rider for having done the merger, and I know for a fact that it cost Rider much more money to keep the Choir College going in the 1990s than Rider had counted on,” said Howard McMorris, a former Westminster trustee who sits on an advisory council at the school. “So without Rider’s having come in, there would be no Choir College today.”

The school today has around 440 undergraduate and graduate students, and saw its endowment reach $21 million.

“Westminster Choir College is stronger today than it was in 1992, when we took it over,” Dell’Omo said.

Rider today finds itself planning its future, part of which involved looking at “whether or not we felt we could fit the Westminster Choir College into our structure going forward,” Dell’Omo said Beginning last fall, an 11-member trustee committee started to explore the possibility of moving the Choir College to Lawrenceville and selling the Princeton campus.

“The board has been deeply engaged in this issue, actually back through October and even before then as we meet as a board,” said trustees chairman Michael B. Kennedy at the press conference.

Yet moving Westminster to Lawrenceville was met with stiff resistance by current students, alumni and others opposed to what they saw as losing the Westminster experience of studying music in a conservatory setting. To amplify their point, protestors gathered, in the morning outside the building on the Rider campus where the trustees meeting was going to take place.

Dell’Omo said moving Westminster to Lawrenceville was ruled out because “there was a sense that just would not serve the Westminster Choir College,” while officials looked at other options.

“And we’re hoping to find another partner to make the necessary investments, the necessary improvements in making sure that that legacy of Westminster Choir College continues well into the future,” Dell’Omo said.

“We are eternally grateful to be given this window of opportunity to save our school and our campus,” said Constance Fee, a Westminster alumna who is president of the Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton Inc. “Now the work begins.”

“We’re very pleased with this decision, and we look forward to working with President Dell’Omo and the Board of Trustees to find a university to affiliate with,” said Mona Davids, a mother of a current Westminster freshman and member of the Coalition.

Kennedy is a retired partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers. In response to a reporter’s question, he said there was “no conflict.”

 http://www.centraljersey.com/news/princeton-rider-attempts-to-sever-ties-with-westminster-choir-college/article_7fb92602-13f2-11e7-bf5e-7fcc29a98325.html