TRENTON, N.J. – In a letter to state Superior Court Judge Paul Innes on Wednesday, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office requested more time to consider the legality of Rider University’s proposed sale of Westminster Choir College to a Chinese for-profit company that is partly owned by the Chinese government.
The university has not provided an adequate response to the state’s questions regarding the sale. In one instance, Rider University took six months to even respond and when it finally did, it only answered two of the 49 questions.
“I think Rider University’s lack of cooperation speaks volumes,” said Assemblyman Hal Wirths.
Wirths and fellow Assemblyman Parker Space in the 24th Legislative District have been vocal opponents to the sale, even introducing legislation (ACR222) to stop it.
Rider University wants to sell the renowned music college in downtown Princeton to Kaiwen Education. The company has no experience in higher education and in fact prior to 2016, they had no business in education whatsoever. It was a government-owned Chinese defense contractor that manufactured steelwork for bridges, ships, cranes and power plants.
“This company has never offered professional music training. Its interest in the music college for the purpose of academia seems dubious,” said Wirths (R-Sussex). “It appears that the Chinese government may be using the guise of academia to access Princeton’s world-class scientists, researchers, and institutions for nefarious purposes.”
An FBI-issued white paper on higher education and national security, says that foreign governments use campuses in the United States to steal information, recruit individuals for espionage, and spread false information for political or other reasons. It cited several examples of the Chinese government using colleges and universities to gain intelligence.
“We cannot sell this jewel to the authoritarian Chinese government,” said Space (R-Sussex). “I’m pleased with the opinion of the attorney general’s office. This is a good sign. I hope it helps stop the sale completely.”
The FBI warned universities that individuals and organizations may misrepresent themselves and their intentions in order to access to restricted information. It said that some foreign governments also pressure students who are there for legitimate reasons to report information to intelligence officials, often using the promise of favors.
An NPR story, said that after Kaiwen Education struck a $56 million deal with Rider University to take over Westminster, the Chinese government-owned company rolled out the red carpet inviting about 40 Westminster students to tour and perform in Beijing. One of the students they interviewed who went on the trip said that the group was “pampered,” “treated like celebrities” and that “Kaiwen staff dangled the possibility of future jobs at them.”
The bill to block the sale of the college has been referred to the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee.