Letter to the editor of the Washington Post

Sept. 9, 2007, 10 a.m.

This letter to the editor was published in the Sept. 9, 2007, Washington Post:

A Promise That Princeton Kept

Your article “Exacting Donors Reshape College Giving” omits the key phrase in the document that establishes Marie Robertson’s intent in making her gift to Princeton University in 1961. That phrase clearly states her intent that these funds should be used solely to “maintain and support at Princeton University” a graduate school “as a part of the Woodrow Wilson School,” a school that does an excellent job of preparing its students for careers in government service and related fields.  

In bringing their lawsuit, Mrs. Robertson’s descendants seek to redirect her gift to purposes other than the one she established. It is they, not Princeton University, who want to depart from the donor’s intent. 

They also seek to overturn the governance mechanism that Mrs. Robertson and her husband established to administer the gift. This structure was put in place to maximize the tax advantage to the donor in making the gift and to make sure that the university retained final control over the disposition of the gift.

When the Robertson family members filed their lawsuit in 2002, it was over differences about investment strategy, not spending. Over the past three and a half years the investment strategy that the board approved over their objections has increased the value of the endowment by some $300 million.      

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