Heirs to A&P Fortune Say University Misused Foundation's Assets
An ongoing dispute between Princeton University and heirs of the A&P fortune resurfaced last week when family member William Robertson outlined intentions to move forward with a lawsuit regarding the use of a $35 million gift.
Marie Robertson donated the money in 1961 for the creation of a foundation that would help students at the University's Woodrow Wilson School prepare for careers in public service.
At the time, the gift was one of the largest donations in the history of higher education.
However, the relationship between the Robertsons and the University has slowly frayed, and the family claims the University has misappropriated the money. Too many Woodrow Wilson graduates are entering the private sector, the family says. Therefore the endowment, which is now worth nearly $600 million, should be returned to the family.
At a press conference last Thursday at the Trenton Marriott, Mr. Robertson contended that the University has not fulfilled the Foundation's commitment to "strengthen the government of the United States," and support a graduate school that prepares students for careers in public service, with an emphasis on careers in federal government related to international affairs.
That is the essence of the disagreement, he said.
But Princeton University has repeatedly taken the position that it has properly appropriated the monies given and that it abided by the goals set in the Foundation's charter. While the Robertson gift money is used for University programming, the Foundation is a separate legal entity.
Marie Robertson's husband, Charles Robertson, University Class of '26, served as president of the seven-member Foundation board. Then, in 1974, Charles' son, William, joined the board as one of three members designated by the Robertson family.
But Mr. Robertson, a member of the University Class of '72, contends that while his parents gave the University the authority to hold a majority of the board, he feels the assets have been abused, and he went as far as to label the scenario as an "Ivy League Enron."
"[My parents] did not give the University a blank check to use the Foundation's assets in any way they should see fit," Mr. Robertson said. Further, Mr. Robertson said the University should be "faithful to its duty to safeguard the foundation's assets and use those assets to carry out the mission, not to feather Princeton's own nest."
However, when the suit was first filed in 2002, a statement issued by the University said Mr. Robertson's primary objection was not the number of graduates finding work in the private sector, but to the board's recommendation that PRINCO, the University office that oversees investment of the University's endowment, be retained to manage the assets.
In 2003, New Jersey Superior Court, Chancery Division Judge Neil H. Shuster resolved that component of the conflict. PRINCO has since been installed to oversee the Robertson assets.
This new step is a request to Judge Shuster to amend the original complaint based on copies of internal e-mail messages among University officials obtained in discovery. The 66-page complaint also states that the University "misrepresented and concealed material facts."
If successful in its pursuits, the Robertson family could receive "sizable" punitive damages. Mr. Robertson told Town Topics that the family would be willing to invest money into other academic programs involving public and international affairs, citing programs at Tufts, George Washington University, Johns Hopkins, and Georgetown.
"These are institutions which I have limited knowledge of, but I believe they do a far more successful job than Princeton," he said.
In 2001, Woodrow Wilson graduates with a two-year MPA (master's in public affairs) degree had fewer students enter the private sector than students graduating from Tuft's Fletcher School with a two-year masters of law and diplomacy, according to University records. Nineteen percent of Woodrow Wilson graduates entered the private sector, compared with Tufts' 31 percent, according to the Fletcher School's website. Additionally, 44 percent of Tufts' two-year program graduates entered the public sector, compared with 39 percent from Woodrow Wilson.
In the same year, however, Woodrow Wilson's one-year master's in public policy program graduated 48 percent of its students to the public sector and only 4 percent found jobs working for private entities.
The University contends that several of Mr. Robertson's claims are "unsubstantiated and misleading," according to a statement.
"In large measure," the statement said, "the materials released by the Robertson family ... are without merit." It went on to say that "[w]hile the Robertson Foundation case is pending in court, the University remains unwilling to argue the case in the press."
The courts have issued a December 31 deadline for the plaintiff to complete discovery, with a possible court date sometime in the fall 2005.