Letter to the editor of the New York Sun

Jan. 9, 2007, 3:15 p.m.

This letter to the editor was published in the Jan. 9, 2007, New York Sun:

Giving to Alma Mater

Andrew Ferguson’s Dec. 26 column about the lawsuit brought against Princeton University more than four years ago by some members of the Robertson family acknowledges the weaknesses of the Robertsons’ “tricky” legal case, but argues that the case is nonetheless important because of the questions it raises about “donor intent.”   He bases his argument on several misstatements of fact and selective citations of data, but his most serious error is in failing to point out that it is the Robertson family descendants, not Princeton University, who are attempting to overturn key decisions that were made and written down more than 46 years ago by Marie Robertson, the donor of a $35 million gift, and her husband, Charles, a 1926 graduate of Princeton. One of these decisions was, in Charles’ words, to donate the funds “exclusively for the benefit of Princeton.” Another was to create a governance structure for administering the investment and annual disbursement of the proceeds of the gift that, again in his words, “is controlled by Princeton” (as is required under applicable tax law).

Through this lawsuit and an associated public relations campaign, which they are funding through a private family foundation, the Robertson descendants are seeking to seize control of money their parents chose not to bequeath to them, overturn the governance mechanism their parents agreed to create, and substitute their judgment for that of the University as to how best to educate students, recruit and retain faculty, design curriculum, encourage research, and promote an array of other activities that contribute to a robust and productive graduate program. They are also seeking to reverse a number of decisions that have been made over their objections, including one that has dramatically increased the value of the gift over the past three years by more than $200 million to a total of $750 million.  

Unlike these members of the Robertson family, Princeton believes the decisions that were made and written down by Charles and Marie Robertson should continue to be respected. Thanks in large measure to Marie Robertson’s generosity and Princeton’s stewardship, the graduate program of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School that the gift was given to support has grown into one of the world’s preeminent programs of public and international affairs. Princeton takes great pride in the ever-growing impact of the program and its superb graduates on government service, public policy and international affairs.  

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