Public Statements

Settlement retains Princeton's control, use of Robertson funds

Princeton University will have full control of the endowment associated with the Robertson Foundation and will continue to use the endowment to support the graduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs under a settlement agreement that ends the six-year-old lawsuit brought against the University by members of the Robertson family. 

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Letter to the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education and Chronicle of Philanthropy - Updated

This letter to the editor was published in the Feb. 13, 2009 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education and a slightly altered version of this letter was published in the Jan. 29, 2009 issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy under the headline "Robertson vs. Princeton vs. Donor Intent."

In their article about the settlement of the six-and-a-half year old lawsuit brought against Princeton University by current members of the Robertson family (“Settlement Ends Dispute Between Princeton and Donors’ Heirs,” The Chronicle, January 9), Kathryn Masterson and Ben Gose give perfectly sound advice: be clear about the purpose of a gift; have clear guidelines for its use; stay in touch with the donors and involve their children. 

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Letter to the editor of the San Jose Mercury News

This letter to the editor was submitted on Jan. 5, 2009, to the San Jose Mercury News:

Frederic Fransen’s Dec. 31 opinion (“Lawsuit settlement’s message is: Donors beware”) draws the wrong message from the settlement of the lawsuit brought against Princeton University by descendants of Charles and Marie Robertson. The real message is that a university can be sued even when it fully adheres to the written agreement it reaches with a donor, in this case Marie Robertson, who gave $35 million more than 47 years ago to support the graduate program of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. 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.

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Letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

This letter to the editor was published in the Dec. 19, 2008, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

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.

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Letter to the editor of the Washington Times

This letter to the editor was published in the Oct. 1, 2008, Washington Times: In his Sunday Commentary column, "Donor intent revisited," about a recent lawsuit filed against a New York hospital, William Robertson revives his misrepresentations about the donor-intent issues raised by his own six-year-old lawsuit against Princeton University.

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Letter to the editor of the Star Ledger

A slightly altered version of this letter to the editor was published in the July 28, 2008, Star Ledger:   In his July 22 opinion piece, "For charities, it's a matter of trust," William Robertson presents blatantly misleading information about why it has taken so long to get to trial in the lawsuit he has brought against Princeton University.  

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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 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.

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Presentation at "Representing & Managing Tax-Exempt Organizations" conference, sponsored by Georgetown Law CLE

"Endowments and Donor Restrictions"

This presentation was given at the Representing and Managing Tax-Exempt Organizations conference, sponsored by Georgetown Law Continuing Legal Education (CLE) in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, April 24.

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Letter to the editor of the Washington Times

A slightly altered version of this letter to the editor was published in the April 18, 2008, Washington Times:

The April 15 Washington Times editorial ("The old college try – in court") incorrectly identifies the donor of the Robertson gift to Princeton and erroneously claims that the Robertson v. Princeton litigation represents "donor activism in cases where colleges fail their donors' standards." This case was not brought by any donor. It was brought by the descendants of a donor who are trying to seize control of funds that the donor entrusted to Princeton, not to them.

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Letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer

This letter to the editor was submitted on April 9, 2008, to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

As their six-year-old lawsuit against Princeton University finally moves toward trial, the Robertson children and their public relations team are heating up their rhetoric, but the facts don’t support their baseless allegations. In his April 9 column about the litigation ("Use of charitable funds is at heart of Princeton case"), Frederic Fransen rehashes several erroneous claims and fails to point out that it is the descendants of the donor, not Princeton University, who are trying to overturn the intent of the donor.

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Letter to the editor of the Investor’s Business Daily

This letter to the editor was submitted to the Investor's Business Daily:

In writing its March 12 editorial about the six-year-old Robertson v. Princeton litigation without talking with anyone at Princeton, Investor’s Business Daily simply rehashed the unsubstantiated allegations that some members of the Robertson family have made in their attempt to gain control of funds that their parents explicitly chose to entrust not to them, but to Princeton. The family members are also trying to dismantle the governance structure that their parents put in place to ensure that Princeton would continue to control the use of these funds.

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Letter to the editor of Indiana Gazette

This letter to the editor was published in the March 27, 2008, Indiana Gazette:

In his March 24 opinion piece about the six-year-old Robertson vs. Princeton litigation, Dan K. Thomasson mischaracterizes the purpose of the Robertson gift and fails to point out that it is the descendants of the donor, not Princeton University, who are trying to overturn the intent of the donor.

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Court confirms trial date of Oct. 1 in Robertson case

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Maria Sypek this week confirmed a trial date of Oct. 1, 2008, to hear the lawsuit brought against Princeton University by several members of the Robertson family in July 2002.

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Letter to the editor of Shreveport Times

This letter to the editor was published in the Jan. 4, 2008, Shreveport Times:

In his opinion piece about "donor intent" (Dec. 26), Frederic Fransen mistakenly identifies the Robertson family members who are suing Princeton University as the party in the case that is seeking to carry out the intent of the donor. In fact, the opposite is true.

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Letter to the editor of the Sacramento Bee

An abbreviated version of this letter to the editor was published in the Nov. 10, 2007, Sacramento Bee:

In his Nov. 6 commentary "No will power," Cal Thomas expresses concern for donors who "increasingly see their gifts used for purposes other than what they intended" and then Mr. Thomas mistakenly claims that Princeton University has "ignored donor intent" in carrying out the purposes of the gift that it received from Marie Robertson 46 years ago.

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Judge issues preliminary rulings in Robertson Foundation lawsuit

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Neil Shuster today issued rulings on seven pretrial motions in the lawsuit brought against Princeton University by several members of the Robertson family in July 2002. His seven rulings totaled 355 pages.

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Letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

This letter to the editor was published in the Nov. 9, 2007, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

The editorial "Battling Princeton" (Nov. 4 and PghTrib.com) misinforms your readers about the outcome of the pretrial rulings in the lawsuit filed by the Robertson family against Princeton University. These rulings were on summary judgment motions, not on the facts in the case. The only motions fully granted by the judge favored Princeton. In his rulings on the other motions, including the one cited in your editorial, the judge decided to defer the issues until trial.

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Letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal

This letter to the editor was published in the Oct. 18, 2007, Wall Street Journal:

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.

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Commentary published on Forbes.com

This commentary was published in the Sept. 20, 2007, edition of Forbes.com:

William Robertson recently wrote a commentary for Forbes.com that thoroughly misrepresents the "donor intent" issues raised by his five-year-old lawsuit against Princeton University. Contrary to what he claims, his lawsuit seeks not to honor donor intent, but to violate it. It seeks not to protect arrangements put in place by his parents 46 years ago, but to overturn them. Specifically, through his lawsuit he is seeking to seize control of funds that his mother, Marie Robertson, gave to Princeton in 1961.

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Letter to the editor of the Washington Post

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

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. 

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Presentation at the NACUA Annual Conference

"Donors, Heirs, Desires and Academic Freedom: Perspective and Context Regarding Robertson v. Princeton University”

This presentation was given at the Annual Conference of the National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA) in  in San Diego, CA, June 29, 2007.

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Letter to the editor of the Detroit News

This letter to the editor was published in the June 5, 2007, Detroit News:

Froma Harrop's commentary on the lawsuit against Princeton University by several members of the Robertson family perpetuates inaccuracies about the lawsuit that the family has been disseminating for almost five years.

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Letter to the editor of the Miami Herald

A slightly altered version of this letter to the editor was published in the May 31, 2007, Miami Herald:

William Robertson's recent column continues what is now a five-year disinformation campaign in connection with a lawsuit against Princeton University that he is funding from a family foundation that is supposed to be supporting charitable purposes.

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Former Gov. Tom Kean to succeed Jay Sherrerd on Robertson board

Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman has informed members of the Robertson Foundation board of trustees that longtime trustee John J.F. Sherrerd has decided to retire as a University-designated member of the board, and that he is being succeeded by Thomas Kean, the former New Jersey governor, president of Drew University and chair of the 9/11 Commission.

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Letter to the editor of the Washington Times

This letter to the editor was published in the March 23, 2007, Washington Times:

The article "A&P heirs assail Princeton" (Nation, Wednesday), about the lawsuit filed against Princeton University by William Robertson and some other members of the Robertson family, incorrectly refers to the Robertson Foundation as "the family's foundation." When Princeton and Bill Robertson's parents created this organization in 1961, it was with the clear understanding that it would not be a family foundation but instead would be what the tax code today classifies as a "supporting organization" for the sole purpose of supporting a graduate program in public and international affairs at Princeton University.

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Letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

This letter to the editor was published in the March 22, 2007, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

The Trib's editorial was wrong when it asserted that the Robertson Foundation has sought the return of funds from Princeton University ("Shameful Princeton," March 19 and PghTrib.com).

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University reimburses Robertson Foundation for discontinued program

Princeton University has reimbursed the Robertson Foundation for the costs associated with a three-year trial program, known as the Graduate Funding Agreement, that from 2000 through 2002 provided funding for graduate students in academic departments at Princeton that were closely related to the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

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Statement submitted to CBS Evening News

Princeton University submitted the following statement to CBS Evening News for a segment on the Robertson litigation that aired on Feb. 11, 2007. The statement was edited extensively and did not appear in its entirety.

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Letter to the editor of the New York Sun

This letter to the editor was published in the Jan. 9, 2007, New York Sun:

Andrew Ferguson’s Dec. 26 column about the lawsuit brought against Princeton University more than four years ago by some members of the Robertson family acknowledges the weaknesses of the Robertsons’ “tricky” legal case, but argues that the case is nonetheless important because of the questions it raises about “donor intent.”  

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Letter to the editor of the Providence Journal

A slightly altered version of this letter to the editor was published in the Dec. 15, 2006, Providence Journal:

Your editorial “unaccountable nonprofits” seriously mischaracterized the lawsuit that was brought against Princeton University four and a half years ago by descendants of Marie Robertson, who donated $35 million to Princeton in 1961.

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University presents oral arguments in Robertson lawsuit, Nov. 29

Attorneys representing Princeton and four University-designated trustees of the Robertson Foundation on Wednesday concluded two days of hearings by arguing in support of Princeton's motions for partial summary judgment on two spending issues and a motion to strike a demand by members of the Robertson family for a jury trial. Attorneys for Princeton also asked New Jersey Superior Court Judge Neil H. Shuster to reject a motion by the members of the Robertson family for summary judgment on another set of spending issues related to the Robertson Foundation.

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University presents oral arguments in Robertson lawsuit, Nov. 28

Princeton University's lead counsel argued Tuesday in support of the University's motion asking New Jersey Superior Court Judge Neil H. Shuster to declare by summary judgment that Princeton is and will continue to be the sole beneficiary of the Robertson Foundation, and is and will remain entitled to designate four of the foundation's seven trustees. Douglas S. Eakeley of Lowenstein Sandler, representing Princeton and four University-designated trustees of the Robertson Foundation, also asked the court to declare that the decision of the foundation's University-designated trustees to retain the Princeton University Investment Co. (PRINCO) to manage the foundation's assets is permitted by the foundation's certificate of incorporation and bylaws, and was a valid exercise of their business judgment. 

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University to present oral arguments in Robertson lawsuit

On Nov. 28-29, attorneys representing Princeton University and four University-designated trustees of the Robertson Foundation will present oral argument before New Jersey Superior Court Judge Neil H. Shuster in support of four motions for partial summary judgment filed by Princeton, as well as a motion to strike plaintiffs' demand for a jury trial. Attorneys for Princeton will also oppose two motions filed by several members of the Robertson family who initiated the litigation in July 2002.

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Letter to the editor of the Washington Times

A slightly altered version of this letter to the editor was published in the Nov. 21, 2006, Washington Times:

William Robertson’s November 15 commentary was the fourth time in the last three years that the Times has provided him with a platform so he can try to cast his lawsuit against Princeton University in a favorable light. But your readers deserve to know that the party in this case seeking to overturn a donor’s decisions is Mr. Robertson, not Princeton University. 

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Letter to the editor of the Daily Princetonian

This letter to the editor was published in the Oct. 24, 2006, Daily Princetonian:

Contrary to what you reported in your article about Dean Slaughter’s meeting with graduate students in the Woodrow Wilson School, my July letter to the Wall Street Journal did not say that William Robertson and other family members are attempting to seize control of the Robertson Foundation for their “personal benefit.” But my letter did try to make it clear that what the family’s lawsuit against the University fundamentally comes down to is an attempt by these family members to seize control of funds that their parents chose not to bequeath to them.

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Guest op-ed column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

This guest column was published in the Aug. 23, 2006, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

William Robertson recently published a column (Aug. 13) in which he purported to offer an “ethics lesson” in charitable giving to college freshmen. His basic text was a code of ethics that was created by, among others, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), on whose board I serve. He specifically cited a provision that gives donors the right “to be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given.” It is sad and ironic that he should be offering this lesson, since he is seeking, through an expensive lawsuit, to undo much of what his parents did 45 years ago in making a gift to Princeton University.

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Letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal

This letter to the editor was published in the Aug. 11, 2006, Wall Street Journal:

Professor Arthur C. Brooks failed to do his homework before writing his column, “Caveat Benefactor,” that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on July 28.

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Further details provided on Wilson School fellowship funding

Princeton University has provided New Jersey Superior Court Judge Neil H. Shuster with further details concerning funding for fellowships in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and specifically for a three-year trial program known as the Graduate Funding Agreement (GFA). The information was submitted in connection with the lawsuit regarding the Robertson Foundation, which was established in 1961 to support the graduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School.

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Princeton University files legal briefs in Robertson case

In briefs filed today in New Jersey Superior Court, Princeton University demonstrated that, over the past 45 years, the University and its designated trustees of the Robertson Foundation have effectively carried out the Foundation’s mission; met their fiduciary obligations in overseeing the Foundation’s assets and expenditures; and contributed to a substantial strengthening of the graduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. In addition, the briefs underscore that, especially in recent years, the University-designated trustees have significantly enhanced the governance practices of the Foundation despite continuing efforts by the Robertson family trustees “to block every initiative” for reform.  

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Excerpts from Princeton’s March 13 filings

In 1965, the Robertson Foundation Board reviewed and approved the Bowen Formula with the understanding that calculating the actual cost of the School's expanded graduate program on a dollar-for-dollar basis, year in and year out, would be impossible. Instead, the Bowen Formula operates through a series of charges and offsetting credits that, taken together, are designed to achieve a "fair approximation" of the cost of the expanded graduate program. In their motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs take a piecemeal approach to the Bowen Formula that flagrantly ignores its many offsetting credits and otherwise distorts the record surrounding the defendants' allegedly "admitted overcharges." Defendants have not "admitted" that Princeton "overcharged" the Foundation by $18,647,923, or by any other amount.

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Letter to the editor of the Trenton (N.J.) Times

This letter to the editor was published in the Feb. 17, 2006, Trenton (N.J.) Times:

The Times' article about the lawsuit brought against Princeton University by William Robertson and other members of the Robertson family, "University funds diverted" (Feb. 10), was based entirely on selective materials recently submitted by them to the court. The result is not only a one-sided view of a complex case covering more than 45 years and several hundred thousand pages of documents, but an article that left several serious misimpressions.

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Princeton responds to Feb. 7 WSJ article

Princeton University's reponse to Feb. 7 Wall Street Journal article about the lawsuit filed by members of the Robertson family against the University and four University-designated trustees of the Robertson Foundation. The article relies heavily on materials submitted by members of the family in one of a series of pre-trial motions recently filed with the court.

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Excerpts from the University's motions seeking summary judgment

In 1961, Marie Robertson donated $35 million in A&P stock "to and for the use of" Princeton University. The assets were placed in a foundation and, at Mrs. Robertson's request, dedicated to the development and expansion of the graduate program of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

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University seeks summary judgment on three key Robertson litigation issues

Attorneys representing Princeton University and four University-designated trustees of the Robertson Foundation today asked New Jersey Superior Court Judge Neil H. Shuster to grant summary judgment on three key issues in the lawsuit regarding the Foundation that was filed by members of the Robertson family in July 2002. The Robertson Foundation is organized as a “supporting organization” of the University for the purpose of supporting the graduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.  

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University seeks resolution of key issues in Robertson lawsuit

Attorneys for Princeton University Feb. 2 filed papers in New Jersey Superior Court seeking a judicial declaration that the University, and through it the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, is and will remain the sole beneficiary of the Robertson Foundation. The foundation was established in 1961 to expand and support the graduate program in the Woodrow Wilson School.

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Implementing the Mission of the Robertson Foundation

The Robertson Foundation was created in 1961 as a result of the generosity of Marie Robertson and her husband, Charles, a member of the Princeton Class of 1926.  The mission of the Foundation, as set forth in its Certificate of Incorporation, is “[t]o establish or maintain and support at Princeton University, as part of the Woodrow Wilson School, a Graduate School, where men and women dedicated to public service may prepare themselves for careers in government service, with particular emphasis on the education of such persons for careers in those areas of the Federal Government that are concerned with international relations and affairs.”  

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Response filed by University in Robertson Foundation lawsuit

Responding to a lawsuit filed by William Robertson and other members of the Robertson family in July 2002, the University joined President Shirley M. Tilghman and three other University-appointed trustees of the Robertson Foundation in filing a motion in New Jersey Superior Court today asking that the lawsuit be dismissed.

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