Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The heirs of a grocery fortune who charge in a lawsuit that Princeton University has misspent endowment money said yesterday that the nearly $800,000 the school is reimbursing the family’s foundation is just a “drop in the bucket” of what is owed.

“This is another shameless act of duplicity” by Princeton, William Robertson, an A&P heir and lead plaintiff in five-year-old litigation against his alma mater, said yesterday.

He and other plaintiffs in the case — all Robertson family members — said that “Princeton University and its designated trustees on the Robertson Foundation continue to be faithless fiduciaries who should be removed from any connection with the foundation.”

The foundation was established in 1961 by Charles and Marie Robertson, the now-deceased parents of William Robertson and his two sisters. The initial gift was $35 million in A&P stock. Today, the foundation is estimated to have more than $800 million.

Princeton says it gave back $782,375 to the Robertson Foundation not because it misspent money, but because it did not inform the foundation board that the funding would be for a now-defunct program to support graduate students in economics, politics and sociology.

In their lawsuit filed in 2002, the heirs charge the Ivy League school with improperly spending about $200 million of Robertson Foundation money on activities, programs, real estate, research, salaries and stipends that were beyond the scope of the foundation’s charter and mission.

The plaintiffs seek to remove Princeton’s control of the foundation and its funds. The case could go to trial this year in New Jersey Superior Court.

The intent of the foundation, the lawsuit says, was to train graduate students at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs for federal careers in foreign service.

But a Princeton spokeswoman strongly denied that assertion.

“The certificate of incorporation for the Robertson Foundation very clearly establishes that Princeton is the sole beneficiary of this gift to support the graduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School,” said Cass Cliatt.

Ms. Cliatt said attorneys for the Robertson family had repeatedly raised concerns about costs to the foundation for a three-year-old trial program known as the Graduate Funding Agreement.

From 2000 through 2002, that program “provided funding for graduate students in academic departments at Princeton that were closely related to the Woodrow Wilson School,” Princeton says on its Web site.

Ms. Cliatt said the university responded to the Robertsons’ concerns by reimbursing more than three-quarters of a million dollars for costs associated with GFA. “This reimbursement demonstrates our commitment to good governance,” she said, adding, “But this does not change our belief that it is an appropriate use of [foundation] funds to support related departments of the Woodrow Wilson School.”

Ms. Cliatt further argued that the reimbursement “did not require a vote by the Robertson Foundation” and that attorneys for the Robertsons were informed of it at the same time as the judge involved in the case.

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