Letter to the editor of USA TODAY

A slightly altered version of this letter to the editor was published June 5, 2008, in USA TODAY:

Princeton seeks to honor intent

Princeton University agrees with the overall theme of your May 28 editorial ("Our view on charitable giving: Honor donors' intent") that recipients of charitable gifts should honor the agreements they make with donors. With respect to the gift that you cite, that is exactly what we have done. What you failed to point out is that it is the descendants of the donor, not Princeton University, who are trying to overturn the donor’s intent through an expensive lawsuit and public relations campaign.
When Marie Robertson made her gift of $35 million to Princeton in 1961, she explicitly chose to entrust her funds not to her descendants, but to Princeton. She made two key decisions that she put in writing: that the University should control the gift, and it should be used to support the graduate program at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Contrary to the editorial's assertion, she did not say the purpose was to "train students for government service."
Over the past six years Mrs. Robertson's descendants have spent well over $20 million, not from their own funds but from a family foundation, in an attempt to overturn both the purpose and the governing mechanism for her gift so they can seize control of the funds and redirect them to other purposes. For 47 years Princeton has fully lived up to its agreement with the donor, spending the funds solely for their intended purposes. Under its stewardship, the gift is now worth almost $900 million, and Princeton's program has become a world leader in its field.
Princeton has built a well-deserved reputation over more than 260 years for fulfilling the commitments it makes in accepting gifts, and it has adhered to the highest standards in all its fundraising. Unlike the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, Princeton believes the decisions of the donor should continue to be respected.

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