Princeton University, 1 Nassau Hall, Princeton 08544; 609-258-3000; fax, 609-258-1294. Shirley M. Tilghman, president. Home page: www.princeton.edu.
Princeton University settled a lawsuit over an endowment valued in June at more than $900 million, ending a six-year dispute about how the money is spent.
The dispute pitted Princeton against members of the Robertson family, heirs to the A&P supermarket fortune, and cost each side tens of millions of dollars in legal fees. The suit hinged on whether Princeton was meeting the donor’s requirement of using the gift to educate students for government careers.
Both sides claimed victory.
Princeton will have control of the fund under the settlement. The school will pay $50 million of that money to allow the family to create a new foundation to prepare students for government service, and $40 million to cover the family’s legal fees. The family had sought at least $500 million in the suit.
“Clearly the expense was really for us astronomical,” William Robertson, 59, said in published reports. “We don’t have the resources that Princeton has with a multi-billion dollar endowment. We also felt that we had achieved our purpose of bringing Princeton to task for their misdeeds.”
Marie Robertson, whose grandfather George Hartford co-founded Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., gave $35 million in stock to a foundation in 1961 to benefit the university’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The money was to be used to educate men and women for government careers in international affairs.
Members of the Robertson family later contended that the school didn’t honor its vision and that only 5 percent of the Wilson School’s alumni work for the federal government in international relations. Princeton said that from 1973 to 2006, 14 percent of students took jobs in that area upon graduation. It also said a total of 42 percent worked in government, at the federal, state or local level, or in other countries.
“This settlement achieves the university’s highest priorities in this lawsuit, which were to ensure that Marie Robertson’s gift will continue to support the graduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School and that the university would have full authority to make academic judgments about how these funds are to be used,” Shirley Tilghman, president of the university, said in a prepared statement.
The agreement will save the school an estimated $20 million in legal costs from a trial that would have taken six to nine months, Tilghman said. Princeton said it has already spent more than $40 million defending the suit.
The dispute between Robertson, a 1972 graduate of Princeton, and the university began in 2002 after the foundation changed investment strategy and the school used $22 million to construct a building. Robertson had a seat on the committee that ran the endowment until 2004, when Princeton gave control of the fund to the university’s management company in 2004.