Princeton Accused of Misusing Funds

University pays back $782,375 to Robertson Foundation in legal battle


Princeton University recently repaid nearly $800,000 to a donor foundation amid claims that the money had been misappropriated, but denied any misuse of the funds.

The $782,375 payback to the Robertson Foundation was the latest move in an ongoing legal battle between Princeton and the Robertson family over the allocation of the Foundation’s $800 million endowment. The case is currently before the New Jersey Superior Court.

The Robertson Foundation, established in 1961 by Princeton alum Charles S. Robertson, was an originally anonymous $35 million gift intended to support the university’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Robertson family members, who hold three seats on the Foundation’s seven-member board, claim that the original donor intended for the money to be used to support the Woodrow Wilson school’s graduate program and help place its graduates in public-sector jobs. They said that Princeton has continually mishandled the Foundation’s endowment and are demanding a $207 million payback.

Princeton claims no such misuse has occurred and argues that the family has no control over the allocation of the money.

“The certificate of incorporation is actually pretty clear,” said Casundra Cliatt, Princeton’s media relations manager. “The University is the sole beneficiary and the steward of the Foundation.”

The Graduate Funding Agreement (GFA) is the most recent focal point of the battle over the funds. The GFA was an expansion program created in 2000 which gave three departments—economics, sociology, and politics—funding to support 34 additional Ph.D. students in total.

The Robertson family argues the GFA was a misuse of the money, and that they were not adequately informed at the time of the program’s creation that Foundation funds were being used.

Princeton University Vice President and Secretary Robert K. Durkee admitted the family was insufficiently notified in 2000, saying it was “just a mistake that was made at the time,” according to The Daily Princetonian.

Princeton admits no wrongdoing in the expenditure of the funds, pointing out that the departments that received money were affiliated with the Woodrow Wilson School.

“We maintain this was an appropriate expense,” said Cliatt. “We are making the reimbursement to show good governance and good stewardship of the Foundation.”

Robertson family attorney Frank A. Cialone called the reimbursement “an admission of liability,” and said he would depict it as a victory in court, The Daily Princetonian reported.

Harvard Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development Donella Rapier and Development Office Spokesman Andy Tiedemann declined to comment on the Princeton case, citing a lack of knowledge of the situation.

Durkee and Cialone could not be reached for comment.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a sub-headline in the March 19 print and original online version of the story "Princeton Accused of Misusing Funds" misstated the amount of money the university paid in the case. In fact, as the article states, it is $782,375, not $8,000. The sub-headline also incorrectly implied that the university had not yet paid the amount, when in fact the reimbursement had been issued.