Foundation Purposes

What does the Foundation’s Certificate of Incorporation say about the purpose of the Robertson Foundation?

Paragraph 3 of the Certificate of Incorporation states that the purpose of the Robertson Foundation is to “establish or maintain and support at Princeton University, and as part of the Woodrow Wilson School, a Graduate School....” [Document: Foundation Certificate of Incorporation (.pdf)] From its inception, the Woodrow Wilson School has always been a school of public and international affairs. The Robertson gift allowed the School to significantly expand its graduate program.

The School has never been, and never considered becoming, a vocational school narrowly focused on training students for specific positions or careers. The Certificate says that the Foundation-supported School will be a place “where men and women dedicated to public service may prepare themselves for careers in government service with particular emphasis on the education of such persons for careers in those areas of the Federal Government that are concerned with international relations and affairs.” [Document: Foundation Certificate of Incorporation (.pdf)]

The Certificate states that the Foundation’s objective is to “strengthen the government of the United States and increase its ability and determination to defend and extend freedom throughout the world,” and that the Foundation will do this “by improving the facilities for the training and education of men and women for government service” at the Woodrow Wilson School. The Certificate allows Princeton to use funds from the Foundation not only to maintain and support the graduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School but, specifically, to provide scholarship and fellowship support for the School’s students and to provide “collateral and auxiliary services, plans and programs” that support the School. It expressly contemplates, as well, that foreign students would be educated in the Foundation-supported graduate program. [Document: Foundation Certificate of Incorporation (.pdf)]

For an overview of a number of the key issues in this dispute, see Robertson v. Princeton -- Perspective and Context, prepared by Victoria B. Bjorklund. Ms. Bjorklund is a member of the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, which, together with Lowenstein Sandler PC, serves as litigation counsel to Princeton University and the individual defendants in the Robertson litigation.

What, other than the Certificate of Incorporation, can define the Foundation’s purpose?

Paragraph 3 of the Certification of Incorporation is the only formal expression of purpose on which the Foundation can act. Nothing else—including private correspondence within the donor’s family or desires expressed by descendants of the donor—can redefine the Foundation’s purpose. The Certificate represents a fundamental compact between the University and the donor, and the donor, advised by legal counsel, understood that the purpose delineated in the Certificate would be the only binding statement of intent for the Foundation.

Did Princeton discuss the purposes of the Robertson Foundation with Mr. or Mrs. Robertson?

Yes. Major gifts such as the one bestowed on Princeton by Marie Robertson represent vast commitments not only by the donor, but also by the University. Princeton works extensively with its donors to structure projects that fulfill the donor’s aspirations but also fit within the long-term goals of the University, are consistent with its basic nature, and respect its academic judgments as to how best to achieve those goals.

In the case of the Robertson gift, then-Princeton President Robert Goheen and Charles Robertson had extensive conversations and exchanged substantive correspondence as the parameters of the Robertson gift were designed. In two pages of typewritten notes that predated Marie Robertson’s gift, Charles Robertson recommended that the School’s curriculum should “not [be] limited to areas pertinent only to foreign service” and needed to include “an understanding of the problems and aims of labor,” “a thorough knowledge of the history, political institutions, economy, etc. of the U.S.,” and “the effect on policy of scientific … development.” [Document: Excerpt from Charles Robertson's December 15, 1960 Notes (.pdf)]

What do the plaintiffs claim is the purpose of the Robertson Foundation?

Despite the clear language of the Certificate of Incorporation, and despite more than 40 years of actions based upon it, plaintiffs want the court to believe that the beneficiary of Mrs. Robertson’s gift is not the Robertson Foundation, Princeton University nor the graduate program at the Woodrow Wilson School. According to them, the beneficiary of the gift is the United States government. They base their argument on a fragment of a sentence in the Certificate that says the “objective” of the Foundation is to “strengthen the government of the United States and increase its ability and determination to defend and extend freedom throughout the world.” That sentence immediately goes on to say that the Foundation is to do this “by improving the facilities for the training and education of men and women for government service and to contribute, lend, pay over, or assign the income of the corporation and/or the funds or property of the corporation … to or for the use of Princeton University … to establish or maintain and support at Princeton University, and as a part of the Woodrow Wilson School, a graduate school.” [See: What does the Foundation's Certificate of Incorporation say about the purposes of the Robertson Foundation?]

In this litigation, plaintiffs proffer an exceedingly narrow interpretation of what the Certificate authorizes, and claim that whether the Foundation is compliant with the Certificate of Incorporation should be judged by the number of graduates it places directly into a limited range of U.S. federal government jobs. In addition to being in conflict with the Foundation’s Certificate and its 46-year history, plaintiffs’ view is anachronistic in its understanding of the federal government's needs and its hiring and contracting practices.

As described by President Goheen, Princeton’s President when the Foundation was created, from its inception the Foundation has aspired to “bring about the development of a whole new level of post-graduate, professional education in the Woodrow Wilson School” amid “the changing requirements of a shifting world.” [Document: Excerpt from the June 12, 1973 Remarks by President Goheen (.pdf)] More recently, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice commented: “As a professor myself, I understand how important it is to root the practice of statecraft [and] the study of statecraft in the systematic examination of politics and history and culture that the Wilson School offers to its students.” [Document: Excerpt from the September 30, 2005 Speech by Secretary Condoleeza Rice (.pdf)]

In what ways does the Woodrow Wilson School carry out the purpose of the Robertson Foundation?

Consistent with the Robertson Foundation’s purpose, the Woodrow Wilson School’s goal is to enroll men and women dedicated to public service and provide them with knowledge and skills that qualify them for leadership positions in government service, including specifically federal government service in international relations, upon graduation or later in their careers. The School superbly prepares its graduate students for government and other forms of public service, precisely as the Certificate of Incorporation envisions.

Since the Robertson Foundation was founded, the Woodrow Wilson School curriculum has taken a long-term approach, emphasizing fundamental analytic methods and intellectual breadth rather than narrowly-targeted vocational training. By doing so, the School prepares students to deal not only with the immediate policy challenges confronting the government when they graduate and enter public service, but also with the very different, and often unanticipated, challenges that will await them in future decades when they may assume major roles within the government.

The Woodrow Wilson School also prepares students for a world in which the boundaries between international and domestic policy issues are increasedly intermingled. It prepares them to serve within the government, but also in the vast array of non-governmental organizations and private firms, such as CARE, World Vision, Save the Children and the Red Cross, that work with and for the government and provide services that were once provided directly by government.

The ability of the government of the United States to defend and extend freedom throughout the world today thus depends on effective leadership not only within the government, but within the many organizations that collaborate with the government in carrying out its objectives. The School advances the mission of the Foundation through its curriculum, its opportunities and requirements for non-classroom learning (including internship programs), its career office, the quality of its faculty and its research programs, and its outreach and communications activities.

Is Princeton’s conception of the Foundation’s purpose something new?

No. The catalogue, issued for Academic Year 1963-64, for operation of the expanded graduate program, reports that the program:

includes both international and domestic affairs—indeed, the distinction here is increasingly hard to draw for there are few ‘domestic’ activities without international implications, and events abroad quickly make themselves felt internally.
     Princeton’s conception of ‘public affairs’ is broad. Anyone whose decisions and actions normally have important consequences for the public welfare is regarded as engaged in public affairs, whether he is employed in the executive or legislative branches of government, and whether his position is appointive or elective, civilian or military, or located in international, national, state, or local fields of action. Clearly a definition of public affairs framed in these terms also embraces some non-government activities, for example, certain types of work in journalism, in private foundations, and in business, labor and consumer organizations. [Document: Woodrow Wilson School Catalogue for Academic Year 1963-1964 (.pdf)]

Do Woodrow Wilson School graduate students enter government service?

Between 1973 and 2006, 72.5% of Masters in Public Affairs graduates from the Woodrow Wilson School who took jobs chose employment in the public and non-profit sectors upon graduation. Over that time period, 41.5% who took jobs went to work in government service (federal, state, local or with foreign governments) and 27.3% who took jobs went to work for foundations or nonprofit and international organizations. For the class that graduated in 2006, more than 88% of those who took jobs chose employment in the public and non-profit sectors, including 50.9% in government service and 33.9% with foundations or nonprofit and international organizations.

As impressive as these first job statistics are, they do not reflect the many graduates who go into government service later in their careers, and the many others who work with government agencies or engage in government-related activities in other ways.

Because statistics can only tell part of the story, the best evidence of the Woodrow Wilson School’s success in fulfilling the Robertson Foundation’s purpose is its graduates. There are many stellar examples. General David H. Petraeus, Chief of U.S. Central Command, received a Masters in Public Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School in 1985 and a doctorate from the Woodrow Wilson School in 1987. Other graduates include former Assistant to the President for National Security Anthony Lake (MPA ’69, PhD ’74), the National Security Council Director for Iran, the Country Director for India, senior officials at the U.S. Department of Defense, and numerous foreign service officers with the U.S. Department of State. More information on these and other Woodrow Wilson School graduates can be found on the Woodrow Wilson School website. [See:]

In addition, the Woodrow Wilson School has had great success in placing its graduate students in the Presidential Management Fellows program. The PMF program is a primary gateway for graduating MPA students to find jobs in the federal government. In 2004, at the urging of Woodrow Wilson School Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter, the PMF program removed an applications cap that previously allowed only ten percent of the graduating class of any given school to apply for the program. In 2005, after the cap was lifted, more than half of the eligible students in the Woodrow Wilson School MPA graduating class applied. Despite intense national competition, more than half of the School’s applicants (16 out of 30) were selected.

What else do Woodrow Wilson School graduate students do after they graduate?

In addition to government service, a number of Woodrow Wilson School graduates have gone on to senior positions in non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations, including the United Nations, the Peace Corps, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. For example, Robert Orr (MPA ’92, PhD ’96) is currently serving as Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations. Some students who pursue careers in the private sector end up working as government contractors, in this country and overseas. Further, consistent with the provision in the Certificate of Incorporation that specifically authorizes funding of “programs for foreign students,” the School’s graduate programs have trained a number of foreign diplomats.

What is the Scholars in the Nation’s Service initiative?

The new Scholars in the Nation’s Service initiative draws on Robertson Foundation funds and new endowments from other donors to encourage exceptional college juniors and entering graduate students to work in the federal government.

The program, modeled after the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, seeks to raise the prestige of government service among this generation of college students and encourage some of the very best students to enter government service. The first five Scholars in the Nation’s Service were announced in April 2007. These Princeton juniors will spend their remaining semesters in college completing their majors, taking selected courses in public policy, learning about career opportunities in the federal government, and spending the summer after their junior year in a federal government internship. After graduation they will be known as Charles and Marie Robertson Government Service Scholars and will serve for two years in the federal government. They will then return to the Woodrow Wilson School to enroll in the two-year Masters in Public Affairs (MPA) program.

Do the Robertson family members support the Scholars in the Nation’s Service initiative?

The Robertson family members voted in favor of creating the program, but in March 2006, when it was first announced, plaintiff William Robertson dismissed it, saying he was “quite suspicious of anything Princeton does....” More recently, Mr. Robertson has been quoted in support of the program.