Letter to the editor of the Trenton (N.J.) Times

Feb. 17, 2006, 9 a.m.

This letter to the editor was published in the Feb. 17, 2006, Trenton (N.J.) Times:

Robertson funds not diverted

The Times' article about the lawsuit brought against Princeton University by William Robertson and other members of the Robertson family, "University funds diverted" (Feb. 10), was based entirely on selective materials recently submitted by them to the court. The result is not only a one-sided view of a complex case covering more than 45 years and several hundred thousand pages of documents, but an article that left several serious misimpressions. 

Most important, by relying on testimony presented out of context, the article erroneously reports that Princeton’s President Shirley Tilghman admitted to diverting certain funds to purposes outside the scope of the Robertson Foundation mission and to concealing the funding from members of the Robertson family. In fact, she did not do either of these things. A full reading of her testimony reveals that she says just the opposite: These funds were not diverted to outside uses and she had no role in how they were reported. President Tilghman did state that when she attended her first meeting as president of the foundation just three months before the suit was filed, she took responsibility for the fact that its governance procedures needed to be updated and transparency needed to be increased. Contrary to the impression left by the article, over the past four years she has done just that, despite continuing opposition from members of the Robertson family. 

The Robertson Foundation was created for the sole purpose of supporting the graduate program of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. For 45 years, funds provided by the foundation, as well as additional funds provided by the University, have been used to advance the foundation’s mission, and the school’s list of exceptional achievements is long and growing. A central issue in this case is whether descendants of the donors can now overturn the decisions their parents made 45 years ago.

Finally, the article left several misleading impressions based on numbers that were inaccurate or taken out of context. For example, in the specific years cited in the article and over the past 30 years, the numbers of graduating students going into government service for their first jobs are substantially higher than was reported. This past year, 87 percent took jobs in the public and non-profit sectors, with 53 percent working for governments or international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank. More than half of the eligible students in last year’s graduating class applied for the prestigious Presidential Management Fellows program, which provides two-year internships in the federal government, and despite intense national competition, more than half of Princeton’s applicants were selected. As impressive as they are, these first-job placements are only one of many measures of the school’s success, as some students will go into government service later in their careers and others will work with government agencies or engage in government-related activities in other ways.

Thanks to support from the Robertson Foundation, the Wilson School is one of the country’s leading schools of public and international affairs. It has a proud record, consistent with its mission of successfully preparing students for careers in government and related fields. 

Robert K. Durkee is vice president and secretary, Princeton University