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Supporters of Westminster Choir College have filed a class action lawsuit in federal court arguing Rider University cannot legally sell the choir college’s campus in Princeton, N.J.

The filing marks an escalation in a battle that has been playing out for months between Rider and a group called the Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton Inc. Facing budget deficits, Rider has explored moving Westminster and selling the college and its campus, which is located several miles away from Rider’s main location in Lawrenceville, N.J. That sparked resistance from faculty members, students and alumni who believe Rider is improperly trying to find a way to make money off a financially healthy Westminster in order to make up for its own financial deficiencies.

The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton has proposed spinning the choir college off from the university. But negotiations did not materialize, according to the coalition’s president, Constance Fee. As a result, the group is turning to legal action.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, says Rider has considered selling the Westminster campus to real estate developers. But it argues Rider does not have the right to sell the campus under a 1991 agreement. Westminster merged into Rider under the agreement, which calls for Rider to continue Westminster’s mission and ensure its separate identity, the lawsuit says.

The class action suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of former Westminster board members, current students, their parents, past students and donors. It alleges breach of contract and asks for a judgment that would allow Westminster to operate as a separate nonprofit higher education institution. Alternately, it asks the court to direct Rider to find another entity to operate Westminster on its Princeton campus. It also asks that Rider be barred from selling the Westminster campus to any group that will not keep the choir college in its current location.

Rider disagrees with assertions of the lawsuit and does not believe it serves the best interests of the choir college, said a university spokeswoman, Kristine Brown, in a statement. The university believes it has a strong defense and will prevail.

“As we’ve told the Westminster community, we firmly believe that the choir college’s legacy can best be achieved with an institution that is better positioned to make the necessary investments,” she 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.”