Princeton Theological Seminary has joined the list of groups suing Rider University over its plan to sell Westminster Choir College. Several parent and alumni groups as well as the Rider faculty union are also engaged in litigation over the sale. Rider is currently negotiating with a potential purchaser, an as-yet unnamed overseas operator of for-profit schools.
In its bid to stop Rider from selling the school, the seminary is arguing that back in the 1930s when a landowner donated the ground on which Westminster is built, she included several provisions that give the Princeton Theological Seminary a special role in Westminster’s affairs.
The suit, filed in state superior court, says that the landowner, Sophia Strong Taylor, named the seminary as steward of the gift, requiring that the land be turned over to the seminary if Westminster ever stopped operating as a choir college. The suit asserts that when Rider merged with Westminster in the 1990s, the seminary made legal agreements with Rider but that the proposed sale goes against those agreements.
“We have repeatedly attempted to engage Rider on these issues as news of the proposed sale emerged, but we have been kept at arm’s length,” said Craig Barnes, president of the seminary, in a statement. “We don’t take this legal action lightly, but we have had no choice but to ask the court to intervene. We are hopeful that this matter will come to resolution quickly and fairly, in a manner that honors our institutional agreements and preserves Mrs. Taylor’s intent.”
Rider’s spokeswoman Kristine Brown responded to the lawsuit. “We have been in conversations with the Seminary for approximately a year in regards to their note and mortgage on the Westminster property,” she wrote in a statement. “We are disappointed they felt the need to file suit at this time, which we believe to be premature. Rider’s main focus has been to find an entity to continue running Westminster in Princeton. It has been our intention when we achieved that goal to return to discussions with the Seminary to address its demand for a share of the net proceeds, to the extent there are any.
“Rider has supported and sustained Westminster Choir College since 1991, when the Seminary declined to do so. Rider will not allow this lawsuit to derail its efforts to find a new partner to continue running Westminster.”