Rider University has signed an agreement to sell Westminster Choir College and its campus to a Chinese steel-making company, which has promised to keep the school open for 10 years and run its academic programs for five years.
In a prepared statement, Rider outlined the complex process involved in transferring the nonprofit music education school to Kaiwen Education, which will run the school. Upon completing the transaction, Kaiwen will change its name to Westminster Choir College. Beijing Wenhauxexin Education Investment Limited Company, a subsidiary of Kaiwen, and Beijing Wenhauxuexin Education, which will operate the Westminster Conservatory and Westminster Continuing Education, are also parties to the agreement. The conservatory provides music lessons, while the continuing education branch holds summer programs on campus.
The signed contract finalizes a preliminary agreement announced in February. Kaiwen was known as Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure Co. Limited until last year, when it opened two for-profit K-12 schools in Beijing. (U.S. 1, March 21, 2018.)
“This contract is the result of months of hard work and negotiations which will allow the board to achieve its ultimate goals of successfully transitioning Westminster Choir College to a partner that can make the necessary investments to continue its legacy, and more strongly positioning Rider to pursue its strategic plan for long-term financial stability and growth,” said Robert S. Schimek, chairman of the Rider University board.
Gregory G. Dell’Omo, president of Rider University, said the process had been thoughtful. “As reflected in its Guiding Principles, preserving Westminster Choir College has always been a priority of the board.”
Rider will receive $40 million for Westminster, which it plans to invest in campus facilities including a new engineering building. (U.S. 1, February 28, 2018.) Additionally, Kaiwen has agreed to invest $16 million in Westminster in working capital and capital over the next five years. Kaiwen also agreed to offer employment and comparable benefits to existing Westminster faculty and staff.
Rider said it selected Kaiwen out of 281 “potential suitors and 13 formal proposals of interest,” five of which wanted to maintain and operate Westminster in Princeton. Rider said that no American higher education institutions were among them. “Only one U.S. education institution expressed interest in taking Westminster to its campus, but after limited diligence, declined to pursue the arrangement further,” the university said in a statement.
Rider said the transaction will close on July 1, but there are still regulatory hurdles to overcome as well as ongoing lawsuits from alumni, students, and donors, and opposition from the AAUP, the union that represents Rider and Westminster faculty. The 431-student college was founded in 1920 in Dayton, Ohio, and moved to its current 23-acre campus in 1934.
Jeffrey Halpern, head of Westminster’s AAUP, said in a statement that the sale agreement was “nothing more than a public relations move designed to obfuscate reality” due to the unresolved lawsuits, contract arbitration, and regulatory hurdles that must still be resolved before the actual transfer can proceed.
Halpern noted that the sale of a non-profit educational institution is an unheard of transaction. “While universities occasionally divest themselves of a college or a program, typically, no money exchanges hands. Rider’s president Gregory Dell’Omo has sought to sell Westminster Choir College for no other reason than to generate a cash windfall, a prospect which has always been troubling. The potential buyer is completely unqualified to run Westminster Choir College. [Kaiwen Educational] has run two K-12 for-profit schools in Beijing for two years and has no experience in higher education,” Halpern wrote.
Attorney Bruce Afran is representing a group of students, parents, alumni, and former trustees of Westminster in a lawsuit that seeks to block the sale. Another lawsuit by Princeton Theological Seminary, which gave the land on which Westminster’s campus was built in 1934, also could throw a monkey wrench into the sale. Afran’s suit contends that Rider does not have the right to sell Westminster, according to the 1991 agreement under which the two institutions merged. The Theological Seminary says that the sale would violate the terms of the land donation.
Also of concern to the sale’s critics is Kaiwen’s ties to China’s communist government. Kaiwen is owned partly by Badachu Holdings, a state-controlled company. (U.S. 1, March 21, 2018.) The New York Times has reported that a former People’s Liberation Army official, Xu Huadong, is listed as a director at both Kaiwen and Badchu. Kaiwen did not respond to U.S. 1’s request for comment.
Dell’Omo, however, said the deal provided a way to keep Westminster open into the future. (In 2017 Rider studied the idea of moving the school to Rider’s main Lawrenceville campus, but decided against it.) “Kaiwen Education’s mission is to sustain and grow Westminster Choir College’s reputation as a world-class institution, while maintaining it as an artistically pre-eminent, academically rigorous and fiscally sound institution,” Dell’Omo wrote in a prepared statement. “It is our hope that the entire Westminster community can come together to help bring this process to a successful conclusion so the legacy of Westminster can carry on far into the future.”
Westminster Choir College of Rider University, 101 Walnut Lane, Princeton 08540. 609-921-7100. www.rider.edu/westminster.