Roberston family sues Princeton over management of $550-million
By Argelio Dumenigo
Relatives of Charles Robertson 26 and his wife, Marie
the couple who anonymously donated $35 million in 1961 to set up
the Robertson Foundation which funds the Woodrow Wilson School
are suing Princeton for what they called the universitys betrayal
of the Robertson familys trust and its failure to fulfill
the foundations mission of training government servants in
The lawsuit, filed on July 17 in the New Jersey Superior Court in
Mercer County, accuses the university trustees appointed to the
seven-member board that oversees the Roberston Foundation, including
President Tilghman, with developing a scheme to transfer control
of the investment of the foundations assets to the Princeton
University Investment Company, Princo, and to commingle the foundations
assets with the University endowment. Princo manages Princetons
$8.4 billion endowment.
The lawsuit also alleges that the university-appointed trustees
that are part of the foundation board and university personnel have
already started the process of transferring $54 million from a Massachusetts-based
investment company to Princo.
William Robertson 72, the son of Charles and Marie, says the
foundations charter allows for foundation assets to be made
part of the Princetons general endowment fund only if the
foundation is dissolved. A unanimous vote from the seven-member
board is required for the foundations dissolution. The foundation
board is required to include three Robertson family members. Currently
they are William Robertson, his cousin Robert Halligan *73 *62,
and Katherine Ernst.
Princeton University has violated the stated intent and trust
of my parents and my family. Contrary to the public comments from
Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman, the money donated
by my family was not a direct grant to Princeton University. The
money belongs to the Robertson Foundation, which is distinctly separate
from Princeton University and has a defined purpose and mission.
My parents made it absolutely clear that the assets of the foundation
were not to be commingled with the Princeton University endowment.
Over the last six months, Princeton has taken a number of steps
to do just this, said William Robertson in a statement.
Although all university officials have been instructed not to comment
on the pending litigation, the university did issue a statement
after the lawsuit was filed and reported in the July 18 issue of
the New York Times. According to the statement, the volunteer
investment committee of the foundations board recommended
adding a layer of professional, day-to-day management of its $550-million
endowment and is only evaluating options, including Princo, in that
regard. The three-member investment committee includes William Robertson,
John Sherrerd 52, and John Beck 53.
There is no proposal to commingle funds of the Robertson endowment
with the university's general endowment. Nor is there a proposal
to disband the three-member investment committee. This committee
will continue to have power over asset allocation and to oversee
and review performance of the professional manager. Should the professional
manager not perform as expected whether it be Princo or some
other entity the committee may recommend to sever the relationship,
read the university statement.
In an interview with the New York Times, President Tilghman
is quoted more forcefully. The money is not his, Tilghman
told the newspaper. The money belongs to the foundation. The
money was given to the university by his parents almost 40 years
ago now. It is not his money to decide what to do with.
The three family members also allege that "that the Woodrow
Wilson School has failed to honor restrictions placed on the gift
or to excel in the training of young people for careers in government
The university defended the WWSs record in terms of placing
MPA degree recipients in government and public service, citing that
for the last five years, between 37 and 55 percent of MPA students
who entered the job market after leaving Princeton went into service
in government and international organizations.
If we have not fulfilled our mission, then I dont think
you can find any other school of public affairs in the country that
has done it, Tilghman told the TImes.
But that is what Roberston hopes to do if he wins the lawsuit. The
family plans to seek out another school to carry out the foundations
mission. No schools have been mentioned yet.
Charles and Marie Robertson, an heiress to the A&P grocery store
fortune, made their anonymous $35 million donation what could
still be the largest gift of its kind in the history of higher education
with 700,000 shares of A&P stock. Today, the $35 million
would translate to more than $190 million in 2002 dollars.
It was not until after Marie Robertsons death in 1972 that
the identity of who had set up X Foundation, as it had come to be
known, was revealed. Before then, speculation at Princeton had led
some to believe that the CIA had donated the $35 million.