This letter to the editor was published in the Dec. 19, 2008, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
The Princeton lawsuit
Your Dec. 14 editorial ("The Princeton lawsuit: Don’t disregard donors") draws the wrong lesson from the settlement of the lawsuit brought against Princeton University by descendants of Charles and Marie Robertson. This lawsuit was about adhering to the agreement that was reached between the donor and the University when Marie Robertson made her $35 million gift 47 years ago. In their lawsuit, some of her descendants sought to overturn that agreement and substitute their own ideas about how the funds should be managed and spent.
The case was settled when the descendants decided not to take the case to trial and when they had depleted most of the assets of the family's charitable foundation, which they used to pay for their legal and public relations expenses. The sad lesson of this case is that a family willing to use a family foundation to pay for a lawsuit can cause millions of dollars to be diverted from charitable and educational purposes, with very little to show for it. Fortunately, as a result of the settlement, Marie Robertson’s gift will continue in perpetuity to support the graduate program of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, free from further attempts to divert it to other purposes.
Robert K. Durkee is vice president and secretary, Princeton University