Appeal of Rider University and Westminster Choir College to the Appellate Division

The state’s Superior Court Appellate Division will hear oral argument next month in an appeal challenging the dismissal of two lawsuits seeking to stop Rider University from moving Westminster Choir College from Princeton to its Lawrence Township campus.

Lawyers from Rider University and the Westminster Foundation, Princeton, New Jersey, Inc., and a group of Westminster Choir College students will face off in front of the Appellate Division judges in Trenton on May 16.

A decision by the panel of judges of the Appeal Division can take from one to six months.

The appeal stems from the March 2, 2020 decision of Mercer County Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy in favor of Rider University’s motion to dismiss the two lawsuits that challenged the plan to move the college from the choir from its Princeton campus to the University of Lawrence Township campus.

Rider University has completed the move of Westminster Choir College from its Walnut Lane campus in Princeton to the university’s Lawrence campus in time for the 2020-21 academic year.

The students and the Westminster Foundation – which is not affiliated with Westminster Choir College or Rider University – objected to the move as they claimed Rider University would not be able to match the campus facilities of Princeton. These facilities range from 46 specialized practice rooms to space for 20 pipe organs and 165 pianos.

In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Rider University asserted that students had no right to use the courts to protect the school. The university claimed that it was the only body empowered to make decisions regarding Westminster Choir College.

The students are beneficiaries of a 1935 trust that purchased the land for Westminster Choir College and obligates it to remain on the property. The trust was created by Sophia Strong Taylor, who gave the land to the choir college when it moved from Ithaca, New York.

If the choir college abandons the campus, the trust requires the land to go to Princeton Theological Seminary, according to an advisory report prepared by the New Jersey attorney general’s office. The seminary trains Presbyterian ministers.

The students’ lawsuit seeks to prohibit the sale of the 23-acre Princeton campus, in part or in whole. But if a sale did occur, the lawsuit would prevent Rider University from pocketing the money for its own use. The university should use the money “for the exclusive purposes or programs of Westminster”, the lawsuit said.

Rider University acquired Westminster Choir College through a merger in 1992. Rider decided in 2016 to sell the college for financial reasons. He launched a worldwide search for a buyer who would keep the choir college in Princeton.

Rider University has found a buyer in a Chinese government-owned business entity known as Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology, Ltd.

Earnest L. Veasey