Princeton Mourns “Tragic” Loss of Glorious Moneybags

Princeton President Shirley Tilghman announced this morning that her glorious university will relinquish one-half of one percent of its endowment ($100 million) to settle a six-year-old lawsuit with a clan of grocery store magnates. In 1961, the Robertson family gave $35 million to found the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs; as of June 2008, the Robertsons’ endowment had expanded to $900 million (score one for the i-bankers!) and the students at the prestigious Woody Woo were using their fancy educations to get jobs in lucrative areas like finance (score two for the i-bankers!) instead of piddling work in the public sector (sad pandas for the Robertsons). So the Robertsons sued Princeton for blowing their wad on a bunch of greedy little prigs, and Princeton was all, “Not our fault if President Bush sucks and government jobs are thankless and painful,” and both sides spent tens of millions repeating those two messages for 76 months.

Tilghman outlined the specifics of the settlement in an extraordinarily long email (which we provide in full after the jump) but all that really matters is this part:

It is tragic that this lawsuit required the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars in legal fees that could have and should have been spent on educational and charitable purposes.

Lady, “tragic” is when someone dies. Spending a few million dollars to safeguard your hoard of billions is by definition the passionless pursuit of institutional self-interest. Note that “charitable purposes” refers to a charity the Robertsons fund, which is where the contested money will now go; as in, if Princeton had its way, none of the money would be going to charity, but to the upwardly mobile neophytes of the Woodrow Wilson School. Basically, this entire story is about i-banking, which is also why June’s $900 million is only worth $600 million now, and why future WWS students may actually end up in public sector jobs. Not because the Robertsons sued, not because Shirley is feeling charitable, but because all the awesome money-filled jobs have disappeared into thin air. Also, this.

Moral of the story: Losing money makes people more charitable.

After the jump: Shirley Tilghman’s email bidding adieu to some money, but keeping a lot more, and some gently menacing words from the Robertsons.

The Prince quotes Alpha Robertson, William:

In a statement, lead plaintiff William Robertson ’72 said the settlement came “only when Princeton officials realized they had underestimated us and had miscalculated our resolve, and would soon face a terribly embarrassing trial.”

“This settlement is more than a slap on the wrist,” he said. “This is a message to nonprofit organizations … throughout the country that donors expect them to abide by the terms of designated gifts or suffer the consequences.”

“We never wished Princeton University harm,” Robertson said. “We sought only justice — and we think justice has been served.”

Take it away, Shirley!

From: Shirley M. Tilghman <[redacted]@princeton.edu>
Date: Wed, Dec 10, 2008 at 9:43 AM
Subject: President Tilghman’s statement on Robertson settlement
To: [redacted]@princeton.edu

The following message is from Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman

Dear Princetonian:

Earlier today, the University announced a settlement agreement in the six-year-old lawsuit involving the Robertson Foundation. The announcement is posted on the University’s website at www.princeton.edu/rls. Later in this letter I will outline the terms of the settlement, but before I do I want to underline the reasons why the University chose to settle the case at this time, before trial.

Of greatest importance to the University is the agreement we have reached with the Robertson family to dissolve the Robertson Foundation and transfer its assets to the University as an endowed fund that will be controlled solely by the University and will continue to be used, as these funds have been used for almost five decades, to support the graduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School. One of the key issues in the lawsuit was who would control these funds and how they would be used, and the agreement resolves those issues fully in Princeton’s favor. Princeton will have sole authority to decide how these funds are to be invested and how they can best be used to support the graduate program of the Wilson School.

We decided to settle the case even though we had every confidence that Princeton would prevail at trial, would successfully refute the claims that have been made, and would demonstrate that the University has used and continues to use the Robertson gift to create one of the world’s leading graduate programs in public and international affairs and to prepare students superbly for careers in government and public service. In addition to highly respected expert witnesses such as Joseph Nye ’58, the former dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, our witness list included such distinguished alumni of the Wilson School graduate program as General David Petraeus *87 and former national security adviser Anthony Lake *74.

While we were confident that Princeton would prevail on the merits of the case, we recognized that the court could provide the plaintiffs with reimbursement from the Robertson Foundation for most or all of their legal expenses. The lawsuit, which was filed by some members of the Robertson family 76 months ago, has already cost each side more than $40 million in legal expenses. Had preparations for trial continued and the trial, as anticipated, lasted six to nine months followed by appeals, legal expenses were likely to amount to another $20 million for each side, or a total of $40 million in addition to the legal expenses already incurred – even before accounting for the time and substantial distraction from other responsibilities of the many Princeton witnesses in the case, including a number of faculty, senior administrators, and trustees. Under the circumstances we concluded that there was little financial difference between settling the case on the terms to which we have agreed and the likely financial costs of going to trial, especially considering that the agreed-upon payments are spread out over ten years. The payments will come from Robertson Foundation funds, beginning with a first-year payment (in 2009) of $20 million.

The specific terms of the settlement agreement include the following:

As mentioned above, the Robertson Foundation will be dissolved and its funds will be transferred to an endowment fund at Princeton with the same object and purpose as the Robertson Foundation, as understood and interpreted by Princeton. There can be no further disagreements between the Robertson family and Princeton about how the funds are being used, and Princeton will have sole control over the use of the funds.

The Banbury Fund, which the Robertson family used to pay for legal fees and expenses in connection with the Robertson v. Princeton litigation, will be reimbursed for certified fees and expenses of $40 million. The reimbursement will come from Robertson Foundation funds and will be paid under the following schedule:

$20 million in the first year (2009);

$10 million in the second year;

$10 million in the third year.

Robertson Foundation funds will be used to provide $50 million (plus interest) in funding for a new foundation to prepare students for careers in government service under the following schedule:

$5 million a year in years four through eight of the agreement;

$10 million in year nine;

$15 million in year ten.

One important consideration for us is that all of the funds that will be paid out under the agreement will go to support charitable purposes. The funds that will be paid out in the first three years will reimburse the Banbury Fund, the charitable foundation that the Robertsons used to pay their legal bills. We continue to believe that this was an inappropriate use of the Banbury Fund’s assets, and we hope that as a result of the reimbursement the Banbury Fund will return to funding the charitable purposes for which it was established by Marie and Charles Robertson ’26 more than 60 years ago. In years four through ten of the agreement, principal payments totaling $50 million will go to a new charitable foundation that has been established by members of the Robertson family to encourage students at one or more colleges and universities to prepare for careers in government service. We believe it is acceptable to use some of the funds from the Robertson Foundation to pursue these compatible goals, especially if the alternative was, instead, to incur additional legal costs.

As is often the case in litigation, decisions have to be made about what will best serve the long-term interests of the University. At earlier points in the litigation, before expenditures on legal fees grew to their current level, the University sought to settle this case on terms very similar to the ones that have now been accepted, but the Robertson family then demanded settlement amounts that were an order of magnitude greater. After the family lowered their demands, we discussed this settlement with the trustees at their recent meeting and they agreed that Princeton’s best interests are served by securing the long-term capacity of the University to continue to exercise full authority over use of the Robertson gift to support the graduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School and by calling a halt to the continued diversion of time and money to this unfortunate litigation.

It is tragic that this lawsuit required the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars in legal fees that could have and should have been spent on educational and charitable purposes. We now look forward to focusing our full attention on using the endowed fund that is being created by this settlement to further enhance the teaching and research programs of the Woodrow Wilson School, under the exceptional leadership of Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80. The University will remain ever grateful for Marie Robertson’s gift to the University of $35 million in 1961, which by the close of the most recent fiscal year last June had grown to just over $900 million, and which continues to provide extraordinary support for the School’s graduate program, even in these challenging financial markets.

Throughout this lawsuit I have been deeply appreciative of the understanding and support of our alumni, and I hope you will agree that the decision we have made is, in fact, in the best long-term interests of the University.

  • Another Perspective

    Not to nitpick but it’s spelled “Woody Woo.” No relation to Gordon Wu, namesake of Wu Hall.

  • Another Perspective

    Not to nitpick but it’s spelled “Woody Woo.” No relation to Gordon Wu, namesake of Wu Hall.

  • Maureen O’Connor

    @Another Perspective: Duly noted and fixed!

  • Maureen O’Connor

    @Another Perspective: Duly noted and fixed!

  • woody

    Both sides in this are idiots. Way to blow millions, Princeton.

  • woody

    Both sides in this are idiots. Way to blow millions, Princeton.

  • ViolentQuaker

    My prayers have been answered.

  • ViolentQuaker

    My prayers have been answered.

  • Genius

    You all fail to see the genius in this.

    The money is being transferred from outside the endowment, so it will mask endowment investment losses.

    Duh..

  • Genius

    You all fail to see the genius in this.

    The money is being transferred from outside the endowment, so it will mask endowment investment losses.

    Duh..

  • http://peebleslab.com/ *groan*

    passionless pursuit of institutional self-interest? did you ever take Econ 100?

  • http://peebleslab.com/ *groan*

    passionless pursuit of institutional self-interest? did you ever take Econ 100?