By Shaun Chornobroff
RIDER President Gregory Dell’Omo has proved himself an avid supporter of the university’s sports teams and can often be seen at athletic events, even accompanying the men’s and women’s basketball teams on a trip to Ireland last fall.
However, when it comes to the potential sale of the sentimental property that was once home to Westminster Choir College, Dell’Omo is stuck playing a game he would prefer not to participate in: what he calls “a waiting game.”
The revenue from the Princeton property could be a godsend for a university finding its way back to fiscal security. However, due to multiple lawsuits surrounding the attempted sale and discontent fueled by the subsequent relocation of the Westminster student body to Rider’s main Lawrenceville campus, Dell’Omo remains unable to sell the valuable land.
“We think in the back of our mind, if we had those resources from that transaction it would make things a lot easier for this institution,” said Dell’Omo in a Jan. 27 interview with The Rider News. “It would give us a lot more breathing room to not only look at how we structure the university, but how we can add more investment to the university.”
Dell’Omo initially announced plans to move the choir college to the university’s main campus in 2016, often citing financial difficulties related to the cost of operating the separate choir college as a main factor.
The university is awaiting results of multiple lawsuits against it, from Westminster faculty, alumni and donors, as well as students of the school, and from the Princeton Theological Seminary, who claims they have a right to the land.
In a Jan. 20 partial summary judgment hearing, the state attorney general’s office opposed the legality of the transaction that led to Rider taking control of the Westminster property in 1992, which the university claims saved the choir college from extinction.
Despite the protest from the theological seminary, who claims to have rightful ownership of the land, Dell’Omo maintains that the school has a strong legal claim.
“We ran [Westminster] for 30 years under the full impression that we owned it,” Dell’Omo said. “We made major investments in the operation, we’ve lost a lot of money over those 30 years and therefore, from an equity standpoint, even though someone else may own it, you owe us some of that equity back because of what we invested into Westminster.”
Constance Fee, the head of the Westminster Foundation — a group dedicated to saving the choir college and returning it to its Princeton campus — declined an interview via an email, only emphasizing the organization is in a similar position to the university, waiting for the legal system to play out.
Jordan Mongell, a senior theory composition major, is one of the last students at Rider who was at the Princeton campus. After four years of prying for his voice to be heard, hoping for change and seeing much of what he was promised lost to the COVID- 19 pandemic, Mongell admits he feels drained as he prepares for graduation.
“I think if there was a bigger presence of other Westminster students following up on the lawsuits, going to events, it’d be a bigger incentive for me to care a little more,” Mongell said. “Also, I’m at the point where I’ve been here for four years and nothing has changed, so I don’t really have any expectation for anything to change anymore.”
The case with the theological seminary is on its fourth judge. The cycle of decision makers has only prolonged any possible conclusion, but even if a decision is made, Dell’Omo expects there to be appeals, only extending the timeline for any potential sale.
“It’s a waiting game, but we prefer to have it happen sooner rather than later,” Dell’Omo said. “It would help everybody out, but we still got to work through the legal process first.”