Rider University President Gregory Dell’Omo sent layoff notices by email to the entire teaching staff of the renowned Westminster Choir College, the American Association of University Professors chapter at the university announced in a press release.
Rider University, the parent organization of the choir college is facing financial difficulties and earlier this year considered several strategies for cutting costs involving the choir college, including moving operations to Lawrenceville. When the university bought the choir college in 1993, the New York Times reported that it was taking on a “staggering $2.5 million debt” that the college had built up.
But separating from the grounds at Westminster wasn’t going to fly, as faculty members feel an intimate, almost sacred, connection with the grounds.
The choirs have performed under a long list of prestigious conductors and with major orchestras around the world. Faculty members tell stories of preparing for those performances. “People feel it,” Inside Higher Ed quoted Laura Brooks Rice, a voice professor, as saying. “People remember it. It is a sacred place because of the level of music making that has happened here. … I’ve never been in an institution where people knew to go into four-part harmony. It’s such an amazing thing to experience that sense of knowing each other, knowing what to do.”
The choir’s performing tonight, with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Verizon Hall. The choir’s women are part of the performance for The Planets by Gustav Holst. The choir program has achieved an unsurpassed international reputation in choral music from its 23-acre home in the center of Princeton, New Jersey, since 1932. It has received three Grammy Awards and currently has three Grammy nominations.
But given that moving the operations—including more than 100 pianos, several pipe organs, and other rehearsal spaces—to a more low-budget facility wasn’t going to happen, Rider’s president moved forward with the sale of the college.
Several potential buyers had considered purchasing the space, including Princeton Public Schools, but the one that resulted in a sale that wouldn’t move the choir college’s operations elsewhere was to an as-yet undisclosed buyer, according to the AAUP press release, that has been “described publicly only as an Asian corporation that has no experience or accreditation in higher education but runs foreign, for-profit K-12 schools.”
Ahead of that sale, the college may fold, move, or operate under a new model with the new buyer. But because of the scale of facilities required to maintain the college as the renowned school of music it has become, unless someone could erect a $60 million facility in the next two years or so, the options come down to folding or working with the new buyer.
Anyway, the layoffs last week involved just the teaching faculty, according to the press release. The remaining faculty members are expected to be laid off by August 2018, when the sale will have been completed.