- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

Princeton University has lost the latest skirmish in a four-year-old lawsuit pitting the Ivy League school against the heirs of a grocery fortune over the thorny issue of how endowments should be spent.

In a letter to New Jersey Superior Court Judge Neil H. Shuster, Princeton acknowledged that $782,376 from the Robertson Foundation went to support a program for which it was not intended. At the same time, Princeton contended that general funds in the amount of $3.1 million went toward the program stipulated by the foundation — the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs.

The lawsuit has attracted attention because of debates over who should have control over financial gifts to universities and colleges and whether endowers can take back the money if universities do not use it for its intended purpose.

The well-funded university — with an endowment of $11 billion — considers the lawsuit “without merit,” but this latest turn bolsters the Robertson Foundation’s assertions that the $650 million endowment was not going strictly to the purposes stipulated by the family, which also has given large grants to environmental and wildlife causes. The foundation also underwrites a scholars program at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Charles Robertson, who graduated from Princeton in 1926, and his wife, Marie, an heiress to the A&P; grocery fortune, donated $35 million in stock to the university in 1961, earmarked for the Woodrow Wilson School. The endowment is now estimated to be worth at least $600 million.

The Robertsons, who have a building named in their honor, intended to prepare graduate students to be career U.S. diplomats. But the heirs of the family have contended that they are unhappy with the school’s graduates, saying too many were becoming bankers, journalists or musicians. One graduate is Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

When the lawsuit was filed in July 2002, William S. Robertson, one of the couple’s sons and also a Princeton graduate, said: “My family believes that the trust my parents placed in Princeton University when they gave this generous and well-meaning gift has been betrayed.” The family also said that the university was commingling money from the endowment with other funds.

The family threatened to take the endowment elsewhere, but Princeton essentially told the family that it had no right to interfere and that the money belonged to the school.

Calls to family members were unsuccessful yesterday. Reached at his Central Park residence, Julian Robertson said, “What lawsuit?” and quickly hung up.

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