By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
The prospective buyer of Rider University’s Westminster Choir College is an Asian company with no experience in running a higher education institution, said a Westminster professor, based on what a high-ranking university official told him and others.
Thomas Faracco, also announcing that he and other faculty will have a “teach-in” demonstration on campus next week, said Westminster College of the Arts dean Marshall Onofrio had three general information meetings last week with faculty, staff and administrators on campus to update them on negotiations for the prospective partner, among other things.
Faracco, who attended the Wednesday session, said Onofrio was asked about a report by a member of the Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton, who speculated that a group of Asian visitors touring the Westminster campus last week were from the Guanghua Education Group, based in China.
“And we asked Marshall if that was true, and he said it was not true,” Faracco said. “But he did say it was a Chinese company. And we asked him, then, have they had any experience running an educational institution, especially at the collegiate level. And he said no, but they had run K through twelve.”
Faracco said faculty “were distressed” at Onofrio’s comments, and feel shut out of the process. They have not been told the name of the prospective buyer, something Rider has said is necessary to ensure the confidentiality of the process.
“We, as a faculty, are united in that we feel like we have a right to know who this potential collaborator is with Westminster and that we’ve always made decisions as a faculty together,” Westminster professor Laura Brooks Rice said Tuesday. “And we just want to send that message, that we feel like we need to be a part of the decision-making process and have a stakeholders place at the table.”
Onofrio could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Rider issued a statement Tuesday afternoon.
“For many months now, at the direction of the Board of Trustees, the university has been working ceaselessly to find a successor to preserve the legacy of Westminster Choir College in Princeton,” Rider spokeswoman Kristine A. Brown said. “The board made the decision to pursue this process as the path most likely to result in a future for the Choir College.”
“Further,” she said, “it is dispiriting that certain individuals and parties are working to undermine the goal of successfully transitioning the college to a new partner committed to keeping the institution in Princeton as a world-class choir college and investing in its future. Actions contrary to this goal are harmful, and could potentially prevent achieving the objective of a strong and secure future for Westminster.”
Westminster faculty will have a teach-in demonstration, scheduled to begin Monday at 9 a.m. and last into the early afternoon, Faracco said.
“And what we’re demonstrating against is the fact that we are totally out of the picture with the current negotiations that are going on,” he said. “Not only do we not know the name, but we don’t know anything other than that little bit of information that was given to us last week.”
Rider is looking to sell Westminster to a buyer who will continue to operate the school in Princeton. The university has been mum about who the international buyer is. Rider intends to complete the deal before the end of the current fiscal year, but a federal lawsuit, brought by Westminster parents and others seeking to block the sale, could complicate the transaction.
“With pressure mounting, with uncertainty escalating for faculty and students alike, with a total lack of transparency concerning the facts about the buyer, this communication from the faculty is not only understandable, it is welcomed by all of us who cherish Westminster Choir College,” said Constance Fee, president of the Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton, by email. “Faculty, students, and parents are now at the point where deadlines are looming and decisions about where they will be a year from now must be made. We are being asked to trust those who are withholding information and who have repeatedly proven themselves to be untrustworthy.”
Based on the faculty contract, Rider has until the end of October to notify Westminster professors if they will not be brought back for the next academic year.
“It has been told to us that we should expect, because of that clause, that all the faculty will get pink slips by (Oct. 31), since it’s part of the agreement,” Faracco said. “And the administration is hoping that this deal with the for-profit company will be consummated by June of (2018).”
He said faculty have been told that is a pro forma step, with professors not “yet” getting their pink slips.
“The Rider University Board of Trustees and President (Gregory) Dell’Omo recognize their obligation and responsibility to steward Rider University as a whole," Brown said. “The steps being taken will best benefit the university and Westminster. As we continue to provide periodic updates on this matter to our university community, additional meetings with the Westminster community will be scheduled.”
By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer