Letter to the editor of the Washington Times

March 26, 2007, 11:04 a.m.

This letter to the editor was published in the March 23, 2007, Washington Times:

A Princeton review

The article "A&P heirs assail Princeton" (Nation, Wednesday), about the lawsuit filed against Princeton University by William Robertson and some other members of the Robertson family, incorrectly refers to the Robertson Foundation as "the family's foundation." When Princeton and Bill Robertson's parents created this organization in 1961, it was with the clear understanding that it would not be a family foundation but instead would be what the tax code today classifies as a "supporting organization" for the sole purpose of supporting a graduate program in public and international affairs at Princeton University.

In 1970, Bill Robertson's father wrote to the IRS to confirm this status, noting that the funds had been donated "exclusively for the benefit of Princeton" and that the governance structure would be "controlled by Princeton." The Robertsons selected this structure to achieve the tax advantages associated with such a gift and with the full understanding that the boards of such organizations must be controlled by the entity they support, in this case Princeton.

As you correctly pointed out, under Princeton's stewardship, the assets of the foundation have increased from $35 million to more than $800 million. Now, 46 years later, the descendants of the donor are attempting to seize control of these funds despite the fact that their parents chose to entrust the funds not to them, but to Princeton. They also are trying to overturn their parents' decision to create this kind of organization and, in fact, to convert it into a family foundation.

Interestingly, the family already has a separate foundation, and these family members are using the income and assets of that foundation to pay for their lawsuit and an associated public-relations campaign.

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