Proposed sale of choir college to Chinese company concerning to some

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PRINCETON -

Faculty members of a New Jersey Christian choir school say that they are concerned about its proposed sale to a company with ties to the Chinese government.

Westminster Choir College in Princeton is currently owned by Rider University, but Rider is planning on selling the college to Kaiwen Education Corp., a company with ties to the Chinese military. School staff and some New Jersey lawmakers say that they are concerned that the sale is illegal.

“A school that ultimately is run by the Chinese government will have no idea what it even means to talk about academic freedom,” says faculty union representative Dr. Jeffrey Halpern.

Two lawsuits have been filed against Rider in the hope to block the sale of one of the world’s only choir colleges. Deed restrictions from 1935 restrict Westminster Choir College to train ministers of music for Evangelical churches worldwide.

“And the gift said if at any point they stopped being that, the land would become the property of the Princeton Theological Seminary,” Halpern says.

RELATED: Westminster Choir holds marathon music protest to stay in Princeton location 

Rider officials say that Kaiwen is the best partner to preserve and enhance Westminster's brand, mission and history. If the $40 million deal goes through, 75 choir college faculty members would be laid off by Rider and rehired by Kaiwen.

“Then we saw the sales contract. In there, it says that Kaiwen could close Westminster at any point if they felt it was a good business decision to do so. So what is the guarantee?” asks Halpern.

Until shortly before making the bid for Westminster, Kaiwen was known as a bridge and steel company with extensive contacts with the Chinese military and intelligence services. Critics of the sale ask how a Christian college fits in with China, where Christians are often persecuted.

“The issue to me is a national security issue,” says New Jersey Assemblyman Hal Wirths.

The Republican assemblyman is one of a growing number of legislators around the country concerned about China's infiltration of American universities. He says that he wants the state Legislature to vote on a resolution opposing the Westminster sale.

“It's a major problem that our intelligence folks in D.C. and the FBI and different agencies are very concerned on what's going on,” Wirths says.

A state arbiter is expected to decide on Friday if the layoffs can proceed.

The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General reported late last month that the 1935 deed restrictions are still in effect.

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