Westminster Choir College students file suit against Rider University

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Westminster Choir College

A group of Westminster Choir College students are suing Rider University in an effort to halt a pending move by the choir college from the Princeton campus to Rider’s Lawrence Township campus.

The 10-count lawsuit was filed by 71 Westminster Choir College students on Oct. 29 in Mercer County Superior Court. It was the students’ idea to sue, said attorney Bruce Afran, who is representing them.

“It concerns them. The school will be destroyed. They have the (legal) standing to sue. They recognized the threat and sued Rider,” Afran said.

The students are the beneficiaries of a 1935 trust that purchased the land and that requires the choir college to remain in Princeton.

The lawsuit seeks to bar the sale of the Princeton campus, either in part or in whole. But if a sale does occur, the lawsuit would prevent Rider University from pocketing the money for its own use. It would have to use the money “for the exclusive purposes or programs of Westminster,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit stems from Rider University’s announcement that it plans to move the Westminster Choir College to the university’s Lawrence Township campus in September 2020.

Rider University acquired Westminster Choir College through a merger in 1992. But three years ago, Rider decided to sell the choir college for financial reasons. It launched a worldwide search for a buyer, with the goal of finding one who would keep Westminster Choir College in Princeton.

Rider found a buyer in a commercial, Chinese government-owned entity known as Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co., Ltd., but the deal fell through in July.

In the wake of the failed deal, Rider University announced plans to consolidate and move Westminster Choir College to its Lawrence Township campus – despite the lack of specialized facilities that the conservatory music students require.

The announcement triggered a flurry of lawsuits, beginning with one filed by Westminster Choir College and Rider University faculty members, and Westminster Foundation members. The foundation is made up of alumni, faculty and supporters.

The lawsuit claims that under the 1991 agreement that led to the 1992 merger, Rider cannot move the choir college unless it can show that “such a move or change is necessary to preserve the charitable purposes and mission of Westminster and that the move to the Lawrence campus will preserve such program and mission in the closest means possible to the existing mission, camps and operation of Westminster.

“Rider also has assumed such obligations under the 1935 Strong Taylor trust,” the lawsuit said.

The Strong Taylor trust was created by Sophia Strong Taylor, who gave 23 acres of land in Princeton when the Westminster Choir College relocated from Ithica, NY, where it had been affiliated with Ithica College.

As a condition of her gift, Taylor stipulated that the choir college must advance the “training of ministers of music of evangelical churches.” Westminster Choir College was formed as the Westminster Choir of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dayton, OH in 1920.

If Westminster Choir College ceased to do so, the land was to be given to the Princeton Theological Seminary. It is a private theological seminary that trains Presbyterian ministers.