Princeton responds to Feb. 7 WSJ article

This morning's Wall Street Journal article about the lawsuit filed by members of the Robertson family against the University and four University-designated trustees of the Robertson Foundation relies heavily on materials submitted by members of the family in one of a series of pre-trial motions recently filed with the court. The University is beginning to prepare its response to this motion, which is due to be filed on March 6. The materials provided to the Journal by the Robertson family were selectively drawn from more than 215,000 pages of documents, 244 interrogatories, 78 depositions and some 18 experts' reports that have already been submitted in connection with this case, which is likely to be tried later this year. The issues in the lawsuit involve facts and events spanning more than 45 years. In due course the court will have access to the full record on all these issues, as it makes its judgments in this case.

The Journal did not report on recent motions that the University filed seeking summary judgment on several matters (see Jan. 9, 2006, release). One of those motions asks the court to confirm that in 2003 the Robertson Foundation's board properly exercised a power that the court previously ruled the board possesses to retain the Princeton University Investment Company as an additional layer of investment management for its $650 million endowment. As reported by the Journal, it was this decision, made after extensive review yet vigorously opposed by the Robertson family, that precipitated the lawsuit. In the first 18 months of PRINCO's engagement, the Robertson Foundation’s assets grew in value from $561 million to $653 million, a gain of more than 16 percent.

Another University motion asks the court to agree that trial testimony is not necessary to reject the efforts by current members of the Robertson family to overturn the decision by Charles and Marie Robertson in 1961 to designate Princeton University as the sole beneficiary of the Robertson Foundation. The governing documents of the Foundation explicitly dedicate the assets and income of the Foundation "to and for the use of Princeton University," for the support of the graduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and provide that if the Foundation should ever be dissolved, its assets would be transferred to the University. In 1970, Charles Robertson, in his capacity as Foundation president, represented in writing to the Internal Revenue Service that the Foundation should be classified as a "supporting organization" of Princeton University because the Foundation is "operated exclusively for the benefit of Princeton," it was "controlled by Princeton," and these arrangements had been "agreed to by the donors."       

Throughout its history, Princeton University has earned a reputation for developing excellent relationships with its donors, and for sustaining those relationships through diligent stewardship of their gifts. For most of the past 45 years, the trustees designated by the Robertson family and the trustees designated by the University worked effectively together, with members of the family participating in the governance of the Foundation and, as documents submitted to the court have shown, frequently commending the Woodrow Wilson School and the University for what has become one of the world's preeminent graduate programs in public and international affairs. The School is led by a dynamic dean, Anne-Marie Slaughter '80, herself an undergraduate alumna of the School, who has attracted some of the world’s leading scholars in the field of international affairs, has expanded the participation of front-line practitioners in the teaching and research programs of the School, and has initiated a number of new programs to place even more Wilson School graduates in federal government service. A report by Joseph S. Nye Jr., former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, submitted on behalf of the University in this case concludes that "[a] s demonstrated by the words and actions of Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman and Woodrow Wilson School Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter, the University and School are fully committed to the mission of the Robertson Foundation and more than capable of fulfilling it."

All Foundation trustees agree that some aspects of historical Foundation and University practices need to be improved and that errors have been made over the years. Beginning with her first meeting as president of the Foundation, President Tilghman has significantly improved the Foundation's governance procedures and as errors are being found they are being corrected. These efforts are continuing, despite opposition by Robertson family members on essentially every matter brought before the board. Unfortunately, rather than work together to advance the Foundation's mission, members of the Robertson family have chosen to draw upon funds from a private foundation they control to pay for a lawsuit that is costing many millions of dollars.

While it is not possible to discuss in detail every allegation made as part of the lawsuit, it is worth clarifying an extensive reference in the Journal article to an endowment provided to the University in 1959 by the Danforth Foundation. The Journal based its reporting on a 2003 paper prepared by a former employee of the University that, unfortunately, contains numerous errors which are repeated in the article. The Danforth Foundation grant of $1 million, which has now grown to $25 million, was provided to support "academic and non-academic programs of a religious nature" at the University. As President Tilghman has reported to the Danforth Foundation, the earnings from this endowment have always been used solely for these purposes through the Department of Religion and the Office of Religious Life.