Princeton alum William Robertson thinks his alma mater is not living up to its motto, and he is prepared to put his money where his mouth is.
Believing that not enough graduates of the university’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs are going on to careers “in the nation’s service,” Robertson is attempting to pull the funding his parents donated to the school more than 40 years ago. Those funds are now worth nearly $600 million.
“Princeton has known for decades that the goal of our foundation is to send students into federal government, and they’ve ignored us,” Robertson said to the Washington Post. “They will lose the money.”
While Robertson has argued that the funds are not being used for their intended purpose, Douglas Eakeley ’68 LAW ’72, Princeton’s attorney in the case, said the large majority of graduates do take government service jobs, even if they are not working directly for the federal government.
The Daily Princetonian reported in 2002 that between 37 and 55 percent of Wilson School graduate students had pursued public service jobs over the last five years.
Doug Gavel, a communications officer at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said 80 percent of the 2003 graduating class in the school’s masters in public policy program found employment in the public sector.
Robertson could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Eakeley said Robertson does not have the right to remove the money even if he feels the Wilson School is not producing as many government employees as it should. The attorney said Robertson is only one of seven trustees of the Robertson Foundation, which controls the money given to the school. Under the foundation’s Certificate of Incorporation, four of the seven trustees are chosen by Princeton’s president.
“[Robertson] doesn’t have any control over the money,” Eakeley said. “It’s unfortunate that the lawsuit was brought in the first place.”
Princeton is not the only university to have trouble keeping large donors happy.
In 1991, Lee Bass ’79 gave Yale $20 million to implement a Western Civilization program. Full implementation of the program was delayed by turnover at the top of Yale’s administration, as Yale had three different presidents and three different college deans in three years, Yale emeritus history professor Gaddis Smith ’54 said. Five professorships had been endowed and senior faculty members were named to the posts, but the new courses had yet to be designed and assistant professors still had to be named. But Bass said he wanted approval of the assistant professors.
Yale administrators said this violated the idea of academic freedom, so they returned the funds with interest.
Yale also bungled a proposed gift from Edward Harkness 1897, who offered to donate funds for the development of a residential college system at the University. When Yale’s president at the time delayed making a decision, Harkness took his gift to Harvard. Eventually, Yale apologized and Harkness agreed to fund the University’s first residential colleges.
While Yale has had past problems with gifts, Princeton’s case with Robertson is just beginning. Eakeley said the trial will not occur until October 2004. He said he anticipates moving for summary judgment in the case, but the judge is requiring both sides to do discovery first.