Princeton University involved in costly lawsuit

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September 7, 2007

1:29 PM

__1961 alumnus sues over “wrongful” use of donation money__

A recent lawsuit between Princeton University and Williams Robertson ’61 sparked mounting tension over the university’s use of specifically allotted donations. Robertson, whose parents donated $35 million in A&P Supermarket stocks to the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, claims that the university misspent the donations and went against his family’s wishes.

p. Robertson, whose family had originally intended for the money to be used for educating and preparing students for U.S. government jobs, believes that the university did not live up to his expectations and wants to reallocate the money. Robertson claims that he is willing to press further charges against the university at his own cost.

p. Princeton, whose legal battle has cost nearly $22 million, expresses concern over the implications of giving donors the ability to rewrite a gift’s terms. Princeton maintains that they reserve the final say over where a contribution is allotted and that the Woodrow Wilson School for International Affairs was established for training students not only for government jobs, but also for fields such as public policy and international relations.

p. If Princeton were to lose this lawsuit, the university would be in danger of losing access to nearly $850 million from the contributing foundation. The dent is noticeable despite the school’s status of having the highest per-student endowment, prized at $14.8 billion.

p. Robert Lindgren, president of Randolph-Macon College, added in an Associated Press interview that the family’s lawsuit “clearly serves as an important wake-up call” to colleges around the country. Most universities are growing aware of donors’ increasing interest in hands-on allocation of monetary gifts and are willing to accommodate.

p. “A hundred years ago, there were handshakes,” Kent Alexander, the general counsel at Emory University, said to the New York Times. “Now, there are contracts, and we’re litigious. I would worry more about something in the past coming back to bite us.”

p. The pressure is here to stay. The Center for Excellence in Higher Education will assist donors in upholding their power over universities’ spending of gifts. The group will work to devise financial methods to secure loopholes and to fasten deals between donors and institutions.

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