UPDATE: July 3, 2019: Rider University no longer plans to sell its Westminter Choir College to Kaiwen Education, a for-profit educational group partially owned by the Chinese government. Rider and Kaiwen “mutually agreed” on the decision, the university said in a statement.
“Throughout this process, the Board has continually sought to preserve and enhance Westminster’s legacy as a world-class institution, and has made every effort to maintain the College (Westminster) in Princeton, (New Jersey),” said Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo and Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Schimek, in the announcement. “Given the enormous complexity of the transaction, it became increasingly clear that partnering with an outside entity, even one as well-intentioned as Kaiwen, was not feasible on a viable timeline.”
Instead, Rider will start offering Westminter’s programs on its Lawrenceville, New Jersey, campus starting in the fall of 2020. However, Rider faculty have already pushed back on that plan, saying the campus doesn’t have the “specialized facilities that the Westminster programs require,” reported WHYY, an NPR affiliate.
The New Jersey Attorney General's office previously took a position that may have hampered Rider University's efforts to sell Westminster to Chinese interests, a proposal that prompted lawsuits on two fronts, NPR reported.
The office recommended Rider get court permission if it intended to ignore terms that specify how proceeds of the sale can be used, Inside Higher Ed reported. An attorney for The Westminster Foundation, a group suing to block the $56 million deal, said it would have meant Rider would have had to sell the college to a nonprofit educational institution, the publication noted.
Although Rider no longer has to worry about objections to the sale, it still faces a lawsuit that contends the university cannot move Westminster from its location in Princeton, WHYY reported.
Westminster, while distinguished as a music school, has struggled financially. It merged with Rider nearly three decades ago. In 2017 Rider announced plans to sell, signing an agreement last year with the for-profit Kaiwen, which formed a nonprofit arm specifically for the deal.
Chinese investors have shown interest in other U.S. college campuses, according to Bloomberg, at a time when their country's ties with U.S. colleges have been the subject of scrutiny. One area of focus has been the presence of the Confucius Institute's cultural education programming on some 100 college campuses, as well as in K-12 classrooms.
Earlier this year, the Human Rights Watch issued a 12-point Code of Conduct advising U.S. colleges on how to handle threats to academic freedom from the Chinese government while also mentoring and supporting Chinese students and scholars at their institutions. The guidance follows the recent release of two U.S. government reports that call attention to concerns about the role of Confucius Institutes on campuses as many colleges begin to cut ties with the organization.
Meanwhile, Chinese investors and other interests are eyeing closed American colleges to use as educational campuses to create pathways for Chinese students to attend college in the U.S. Among them, undisclosed Chinese interests bought the former Daniel Webster College, in New Hampshire, for about $12 million. The campus of the closed Saint Paul's College, in Virginia, sold for $2.5 million to a company backed by Chinese investors. And late last year, Chinese tutoring and career services company Ambow Education bought Bay State College, in Boston.