NJ - Donors' kids sue Princeton for refund of $35 million gift

Discussion in 'Up to the Minute' started by Casshew, Jul 3, 2004.

  1. Casshew

    Casshew Former Member

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    PRINCETON, New Jersey (AP) -- In 1961, at the height of the Cold War, Charles and Marie Robertson donated $35 million in stock to Princeton University to help it turn out high-level diplomats and produce the next generation of George F. Kennans, Robert Lovetts and Averell Harrimans.

    A decade later, Robertson complained that the recipient of the gift, Princeton's distinguished Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, was not producing enough diplomats and was instead turning out journalists, bankers and -- most appalling of all -- a professional oboist.

    Now the Robertsons' children have taken up those complaints, along with allegations of misspending and grievances about Princeton's degree of control over the bequest, in a lawsuit demanding the Ivy League university return the $600 million or more that the gift is now worth.

    The family wants to give the money to other universities.

    The lawsuit, filed in 2002 and amended with additional allegations as recently as last month, represents one of the biggest attempts ever to take back a charitable donation.

    "They've abused their control, they've failed their mission and the donor intent," said Anne R. Meier, 58, a daughter of the Robertsons. "From the very beginning, they were trying to pull the wool over our eyes."

    The Robertsons' son William, 54, a 1972 Princeton graduate, calls Princeton "the Enron of the Ivy League."

    Princeton denies any misspending and insists it has been working hard for four decades to fulfill the purposes of the bequest. Moreover, university lawyer Douglas Eakeley said the terms of the 1961 gift give the school more authority than the family as to how the money should be used.

    Cold War cash

    The lawsuit against one of the world's most prestigious universities illuminates the way diplomacy has changed since the height of the Cold War.

    Robertson, a 1926 Princeton graduate, and his wife, a daughter of the founder of the A&P supermarket chain, made their gift of A&P stock anonymously. In a letter to his children in 1962, Robertson said his hope was to "strengthen the government of the United States and, in doing so, assist people everywhere who sought freedom with justice."

    His idea was to turn the graduate program at the Wilson School -- which was founded in 1930 and renamed in 1948 for the former president of both Princeton and the United States -- into a place for mid-career government employees to learn to be high-level diplomats.

    That never did become the focus of the school. "Woody Woo," as the school is known to students, has nonetheless carved out an esteemed place in academia and in international relations. For example, eight Afghan leaders-in-waiting were secretly taken to the school just six weeks after the September 11 attacks for a seminar on how to run a country.

    In a 1972 letter, Robertson scolded the school for not turning out enough career diplomats. But Princeton said then, and says now, that training diplomats has become more difficult because the world has changed vastly since the early 1960s.

    The gift came when the nuclear standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union was particularly tense, before the United States was fully engaged in Vietnam, and at a time when President Kennedy was imploring the nation to "ask what you can do for your country."

    But by the early 1970s, Princeton officials said, non-governmental agencies were becoming as important in international relations as government diplomats, and distrust of the government was rising. (In fact, rumors circulated on campus that the "X Foundation" that funded the Wilson School was the CIA, prompting Charles Robertson to come forward in 1973, after his publicity-shy wife had died, and admit he was the donor.)

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