Court dismisses lawsuits challenging WCC consolidation

By Stephen Neukam and Lauren Minore

In a victory for the university’s bid to move Westminster Choir College (WCC) to the Lawrenceville campus, the New Jersey Superior Court this week granted Rider’s motion to dismiss two lawsuits that challenged the school’s consolidation plans.

The suits, one comprised of faculty, alumni and donors to the college and the other filed by 71 current students, opposed Rider’s move to relocate WCC.

Judge Robert Lougy granted the motions to dismiss because the WCC students, faculty, alumni and donors were not a party to or beneficiaries of the 1991 Merger Agreement between Rider and WCC, as well as two other agreements, and did not have the ability to challenge these three contracts.

“The Court cannot and does not conclude that the parties to the relevant agreements intended to benefit Plaintiffs,” the court’s decision said. “As separate non-profit corporations in 1991, WCC and Rider University were free to make their own contracts regarding the merger of the two schools. Plaintiffs do not have the ability to challenge the contract that was created.”

In addition, Loughy noted that the lawsuit by WCC faculty, alumni and donors did not allege the university was acting in bad faith.

“As the owner of WCC, Rider University is free to make those business decisions so long as it does not act arbitrarily,” Loughy wrote. “Without allegations of arbitrariness or bad faith, the Court is reluctant to involve itself with [Rider University’s] business judgment.”

In a statement to the university community, Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo urged “every member of our community” to look forward to the future in light of the court’s ruling.

“The decision affirms our long-held confidence in our legal position and will allow us to focus even more of our efforts and resources on ensuring a strong and sustainable future for Westminster Choir College and Rider University,” said Dell’Omo.

Despite Dell’Omo’s call for unity, those opposed to the move do not plan on halting the legal process after the court’s announcement.

According to President of the Westminster Foundation Constance Fee, the alumni and faculty group working to stop the sale or movement of the school, both parties will appeal the decision of the court.

“Dear Westminster Family and Friends, please rest assured that today’s announcement concerning the lawsuits is just the beginning of the legal journey, not the end,” a statement from the Westminster Foundation read. “Nothing whatsoever has changed in our commitment to this effort. We are in it for the long haul. We will not back down and we will not give up.”

Professor of Music Theory and Composition and Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors Assistant Grievance Officer Joel Phillips echoed the statement and questioned the university’s decision to spend millions of dollars to “duplicate existing facilities.”

“I am disappointed by the ruling, but undaunted,” Phillips said. “Of course we will appeal.”

Freshman sacred music major Jordan Klotz, who was signed onto the student lawsuit, said that the fight to keep WCC in Princeton is at “just the beginning.”

“We are a resilient community,” said Klotz. “People don’t always understand what Westminster is about, but we will continue to work to do justice to our beloved home.”

The ruling did not consider any complaint related to the land where the Princeton campus is located. The court established in its decision that the land is a trust and said that the fact of whether the land should be granted to the Princeton Theological Seminary after the school’s movement “is an issue for another day.”

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