Rider University task force to evaluate possible fall opening

Rider University, which moved to remote learning in response to COVID-19 in March, has formed a task force to create a plan for the fall semester in the wake of the pandemic, Rider University officials announced May 7.

Rider officials expect the college to be fully open for the fall semester, including the relocation of Westminster Choir College from its Princeton campus to the Lawrence Township campus, President Gregory Dell’Omo said.

But being “fully open” could mean many things, and that’s what the Fall 2020 Planning Task Force will explore, Dell’Omo said.

“Even if the worst of the pandemic is behind us by then, we know there will be a lasting impact and possibly recurrences of the coronavirus that we must plan for now,” Dell’Omo said.

To help plan for the fall semester, the Fall 2020 Planning Task Force will evaluate and recommend “a comprehensive plan to address the myriad of issues and challenges we will face next academic year,” he said.

The task force will focus on four areas: academics, facilities and public health, the student experience, and finance and enrollment. It is being chaired by Kelly Bidle, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“As much as we wish we could resume business as usual in the fall, it’s unrealistic to think this virus is going to suddenly disappear and not have any effect on our operations,” Bidle said.

Dell’Omo agreed, and said that “in a perfect world,” officials would be able to predict exactly what will happen in September.

But there are too many unknowns to be able to state what will occur, other than that officials will do all they can to protect the health and safety of the community while also focusing on academics, Dell’Omo said.

The uncertainty carries over to potential students and their families who are deciding where to enroll for college for the fall semester, officials said.

“Given the uncertainty posed by the virus, it’s very challenging to predict with precision how it will affect enrollment,” said Kristine Brown, associate vice president for University Marketing and Communications.

“To combat this uncertainty, we are doing everything within our power to support and engage potential students,” Brown said.

Those efforts include creating “virtual” options for all admissions events and tours, intensive outreach to admitted students and extending the deposit deadline to June 1, Brown said.

What is certain, however, is Westminster Choir College’s move from its Princeton campus to Rider University’s Lawrence Township campus in time for the fall semester, officials said. Westminster Choir College became part of Rider University in 1992 when the two schools merged.

Rider University decided to sell Westminster Choir College for financial reasons in 2016. It launched a worldwide search for a buyer who would keep it in Princeton. It found a buyer, but when the deal fell through in July 2019, it was decided to consolidate the two campuses.

“The campus transition is still taking place, and we expect renovations and construction in Omega House, Gill Chapel and Franklin B. Moore Library to be completed in time for the fall semester,” Brown said.

Gill Chapel is being renovated to accommodate 13 new practice rooms for the Westminster Choir College students. The Franklin B. Moore Library is being renovated for the choir college’s extensive library collection, which includes books and sheet music.

Rider University Provost DonnaJean Fredeen said officials “believe the decision to move forward with the transition at this time is critical to best preserve current and future Westminster enrollments, as well as supporting the vision for the combined Westminster College of the Arts in Lawrenceville.”