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Letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal

Oct. 18, 2007, 3 p.m.

This letter to the editor was published in the Oct. 18, 2007, Wall Street Journal:
Princeton Has Done the Right Thing
Contrary to the claims of the Robertson descendants who are suing Princeton University ("Alms for the Alma Mater," Oct. 13, 2007), Princeton has always used the funds given by Marie Robertson solely for the purpose for which she made her $35 million gift in 1961. Her clear intent, which is stated in a written document, was to "maintain and support at Princeton University" a graduate school "as part of the Woodrow Wilson School," a school that does an excellent job of preparing students for careers in government service and related fields. That is exactly how the funds have been used for more than 46 years.
This lawsuit is an effort by Marie Robertson's descendants to redirect her gift to purposes other than the one she established and to overturn the governance mechanism that Mrs. Robertson and her husband established to administer the gift. This structure, a “supporting organization” known as the Robertson Foundation, 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 its disposition. Again, this was all clearly written down. It is the donor's descendants, not Princeton University, who want to depart from the donor's intent.
 When the Robertson descendants filed their lawsuit in 2002, it was over differences about investment strategy, not spending. The investment strategy that the board approved over their objections has increased the value of the endowment by more than $350 million in the almost four years since that decision was made, to a total value now exceeding $880 million.  
Princeton has built a well deserved reputation over more than 250 years for fulfilling the commitments it makes in accepting gifts. Unlike the plaintiffs in this case, the University believes the decisions that were made by the donor and written down more than 46 years ago should continue to be respected, including decisions about how the funds should be used and how they should be administered. 

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