- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2004

An official of the American Foreign Service Association recently chided the heirs to a family fortune for wanting to end a Princeton University scholarship program founded by their parents to train future diplomats.

“The truth is the opposite,” said one of the heirs to the A&P; supermarket fortune, William Robertson, in a statement sent to Louise Crane in response to her criticism in a newsletter. Ms. Crane is the vice president of AFSA and represents State Department employees.

Mr. Robertson said he and his sisters, Katherine Ernst and Anne Meier, are trying to “wrest control” of the Robertson Foundation from Princeton University “so we can guarantee the … foundation pursues the original mission established by our parents.”

“Our primary goal is to release foundation funds from Princeton’s grip” and distribute them to other universities that have “truly worthy programs” for training students for government jobs in foreign service, said Mr. Robertson in a telephone interview yesterday.

The family brought suit against the Ivy League school in July 2002.

In 1961, Charles and Marie Robertson, now deceased, donated 700,000 shares of A&P; stock, then valued at $35 million, to establish the foundation. Its purpose was to finance the graduate school program at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and provide full scholarships for students seeking government careers in foreign relations.

“But the placement rates [in the specified field] have been incredibly low. Last year, only three of 63 graduate students [who received full tuition from the Robertson Foundation] entered government service, a figure that’s been consistently low for 30 years,” said Frank Cialone, a San Francisco lawyer representing Mr. Robertson and his family.

Asked about the litigation yesterday, Princeton released a statement from October, which announced that mediation efforts were under way:

“It is particularly unfortunate that this lawsuit has arisen at a time when both the university and Wilson School are under new leadership that is moving the school forward in many areas, including areas the Robertsons have cited as being important to them.”

Today, the dollar value of the Robertson Foundation is about $585 million, and the family is seeking full recovery of that amount to help students at other universities aspiring for foreign service careers, said Herbert Berkowitz, a family spokesman.

On Jan. 1, Princeton “took control” of the foundation’s wealth, putting it under the Princeton University Investment Co., which manages the university’s general endowment.

The Robertson family has described Princeton’s action as a “blatant half-a-billion money grab.”

Mr. Cialone said, “The money was not a gift to Princeton. The foundation is an independent entity. The university accepted that condition” from the start.

“The university has a lot of power,” he said. “But it can’t use assets for whatever it wants.”

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