Sunday, December 15, 2019
US flag

All teaching staff laid off at a renowned choir college

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.


Westminster Choir College performs an opera, music by Benjamin Britten (Justin Smiley / Flickr CC)

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.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

Girls’ volleyball champs in Illinois

We congratulate the Illinois state champions in girls' volleyball: Newark, St Teresa, Sterling, & Benet Academy.

A weekend of ‘band geeks’ across America

The musical Band Geeks was in performance at a MD high school, just as marching bands from across America named a national champion.

2 dead, 3 wounded in Calif. school shooting

Another school shooting has resulted in the death of 2 California high school students. The suspect shot himself and is in custody.

Mercury makes a transit; next in 2032

A transit of Mercury occurred today and was visible from the US, provided you had sunny skies. It was one of longest possible transits.

On the Naperville BWW racist incident

A racist incident at a Naperville, IL, sports bar indicates that the threads of racism are strong, perhaps as strong as ever.

IL bill could excuse absences to vote

A proposed law in IL could give students up to two hours during the school day so they could vote in the upcoming election.

Loan forgiveness gains some bipartisan support

One Republican from GA, who used to work under Betsy DeVos at the US Education Dept, offers a plan to forgive some student loan debt.

A band teacher is IL Teacher of the Year

IL named a band teacher the 2020 Teacher of the Year on Oct. 19. He individualizes music instruction and shares his work with 1000s.

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ bookends Halloween

Several high schools have decided to add a little spook to their musical stages in this season of Halloween. Music makes it happen.

New IL law ensures inclusion of LGBTQ+

A law will take effect next school year in IL that will require students to study LGBTQ history as part of the social studies curriculum.

MoCo doubles down on summer learning loss

Research is at least equivocal about summer learning loss, but maybe there's something to a new plan in Montgomery County, Md.