LAWRENCE — The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College filed a class action lawsuit to stop any sale of the school by Rider University.

The suit, filed in federal district court in New York, claims Rider failed to include the Coalition in negotiations to sell the 91-year-old school.

"When that opportunity never materialized, and no effort to schedule a follow-up meeting by the deadline was made, we were left with only one option, which was to do exactly what we said we would do, when we said we would do it, and proceed with legal action,” Coalition president Constance Fee said in a statement.

Supporters of Westminster Choir College rally before the Rider Trustees meeting in March (Thomas E.C. Barclay)

Rider announced plans to sell Westminster in March as an effort to reduce its budget deficit as enrollment declines. Rider president Gregory Dell'Omo, who did not put a price tag on the school, said their first preference was to find a buyer for the school that would continue to run it on the Princeton campus.

However, Rider would consider selling the property and move the school to Rider's Lawrence campus, an idea that did not sit well with the Coalition.

“Once the Choir College is broken up, some of it relocated elsewhere, and the campus sold, there is no turning back. Westminster’s world-class stature and international renown would be impossible to maintain, and would be gone forever," Fee said.

"We disagree with the contentions of this lawsuit and believe we have strong defenses and that we will prevail," Rider spokeswoman Kristine Brown told New Jersey 101.5 in a statement. "We also do not believe such litigation serves the best interests of Westminster Choir College."

Brown echoed Dell'Omo's assertion that Westminster's legacy is best served with a new institution better positioned to invest in its future.

Coalition legal counsel Bruce Afran said that the agreement Rider signed with Westminster in 1991 does not give the school the right to sell the institution.

"When the two schools were merged, Rider agreed in a solemn undertaking to continue to operate and fund Westminster. Rider cannot sell out this world-renowned music college simply to cover its own deficit. Rider's deficit arises out of its own loss of 1,000 students over the past five years while Westminster's enrollment has remained stable. We are asking the U.S. District Court in New York to order that Rider cease all efforts to sell Westminster, and to honor its obligations under the 1991 merger agreement," Afran said.

"Working closely with the Board of Trustees and an outside firm, we’ve made significant progress on our search to find a new institution willing to acquire Westminster Choir College and continue its rich tradition," Brown said.

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