A promising move for Westminster Choir College

By Kaitlyn McCormick

While the merger of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) and Westminster College of the Arts (WCA) garnered mixed reactions from students, staff and faculty, this move, announced by Provost DonnaJean Fredeen on March 25, adds another chapter to the Westminster Choir College (WCC) student’s transition to Lawrenceville from their Princeton campus – one that many are choosing to see as a step forward.

‘Cautious optimism’
Marion Jacob, a second-year master’s student studying choral composition as well as one of the co-creators of a petition sent by WCC students to the administration last semester, said that while she was initially unsure how to feel about the merger, she thinks that WCC students in general right now are feeling a lot of “cautious optimism.”

“It seems like a move in the right direction, but can we trust that it’s going to be a positive one?” Jacob said.

Senior music major Abigail Flanagan is also choosing to see this merge as a positive move.

“I feel like I’ve really witnessed a lot of turmoil with my school … I think I’m hoping to see the dust kind of settle,” Flanagan said.

Preserving the Westminster name
For WCC students, fighting the erasure of Westminster’s name and legacy has been at the forefront of concerns, and the merging of colleges has, at the very least, kept the WCC name intact as its own college under the new College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) which will move forward officially in July.

Flanagan said that one of the greatest needs from WCC “really has been to maintain the identity that comes along with WCC and that type of community, and I think the WCA was sweeping a lot of that under the rug.”
At a time when WCC students have already faced so much uncertainty and disappointment with the loss of the Princeton campus, keeping the authenticity of the college as its own entity is imperative to not only its success but also the morale of the students and alumni who are proud of making it through such a well-respected and well-known program.

Flanagan said, “[WCC] is something to be celebrated and it is a really important part of the music community and the choral community, and I think it’s about time that they take their rightful place back in that community.”

Counting on new leadership
The recent retirement of WCA Dean Marshall Onofrio has made room for a new leadership team, adding to the excitement about the merger.

CLAS Dean Kelly Bidle was appointed dean of the proposed CAS, along with two associate deans: Department of Music Education Chair, Jason Vodicka ’03, ’09, and current CLAS Associate Dean Brooke Hunter.

Jacob said that Bidle, Vodicka and Hunter attended a Westminster Choir rehearsal on April 9.
“For the first time, I just really felt like, ‘Okay … this is a wonderful thing. Here we have three deans who care deeply about the students and about what we do,” Jacob said.

Following the tumultuous and hurtful loss of their Princeton campus and the struggle to find adequate space on Rider’s Lawrenceville campus, the WCC community needs now more than ever an administrative support system that will truly be dedicated to not only hearing their needs and concerns but making necessary changes and solutions come to fruition as well.

Jacob said that the interest shown by the three deans thus far is “the kind of responsiveness and attention that especially the students of WCC have not had from upper administration in the last few years.”

Bidle, who spent time at the Princeton campus teaching gen-ed science and Baccalaureate Honors Program courses before serving as CLAS dean, displayed a welcoming excitement in having WCC as a more affirmed presence on the Lawrenceville campus.

“I loved bringing science to those students the same way I love them bringing music to me and our students,” Bidle said.

Bidle also expressed a commitment to not only making WCC students feel heard as a part of the Lawrenceville campus but maintaining the promises made to these students in terms of facilities.

“We made a $12 million facilities commitment to bring the campus down here … I hope [that] demonstrates we’ve invested, we recognize there’s some more we need to do,” she said. “I have every intention, at least what I’m able to control, to make sure we do … not just what the Westminster students need, but what all of our students need.”

Looking forward
While some students are feeling a tentative sense of security and even excitement about the decision to merge the colleges, the administration has aneven higher responsibility now to truly listen to WCC students and faculty and make true to the promises that were granted to them during their transition.

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