Letter to the editor of the Washington Times

A slightly altered version of this letter to the editor was published in the Nov. 21, 2006, Washington Times:

Sustaining a Princeton legacy

William Robertson’s November 15 commentary was the fourth time in the last three years that the Times has provided him with a platform so he can try to cast his lawsuit against Princeton University in a favorable light. But your readers deserve to know that the party in this case seeking to overturn a donor’s decisions is Mr. Robertson, not Princeton University.

Mr. Robertson is incorrect when he describes the organization created by his mother’s gift to Princeton in 1961 as a “private foundation.” Even though it is called the Robertson Foundation, it is what the tax code recognizes as a Type 1 “supporting organization” that exists solely to support a particular charitable entity, in this case Princeton. Such an organization must be controlled by the entity it supports—not the donor. Princeton designates four of the seven Robertson Foundation trustees, but Robertson family members or their designees have always held the other three seats.

For 45 years Princeton has used the funds provided by the Robertson Foundation to support and advance the foundation’s purpose, which is to support the graduate program of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Under Princeton’s management, the foundation’s assets, which began with a gift of $35 million, have now reached more than $750 million. Through his lawsuit, Mr. Robertson seeks to seize control of the funds that his parents chose not to bequeath to their children, but instead to donate to Princeton. He also seeks to overturn the governance mechanism that his parents agreed to create that gives majority control of the board to Princeton. In his pursuit of this case, questions have been raised about the appropriateness of his using earnings and assets from a private Robertson family foundation to finance his lawsuit.

The dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, Anne-Marie Slaughter, herself a graduate of the school, was in Washington recently to chair an Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Two alumni of the school have just been selected to receive the University’s most prestigious alumni awards: Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland and Julius Coles, the president of Africare who previously had a 28-year career with the U.S. Agency for International Development. These are just three of many examples of the kinds of leaders the school prepares for careers in government and other forms of public service.  

Princeton takes great pride in the quality of the graduate program the Robertson Foundation supports in the Woodrow Wilson School and in the growing impact of the school and its graduates on government service, public policy and international affairs. Despite Mr. Robertson’s attempts to paint a different picture, his lawsuit comes at a time when the school and Princeton’s commitment to it have never been stronger and when its contributions to the nation and the world have never been greater.

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