Princeton v. Robertson Donor Intent Case Will Go To Trial

A New Jersey surperior court judge ruled today that Princeton University must go on trial for improperly spending $200 million of a Robertson Foundation bequest intended to help Princeton students prepare for careers in government service.

This is the most important donor intent case in recent years, and the court’s ruling has been eagerly awaited. CRC’s Martin Morse Wooster explains the case here and in the new edition of his book The Great Philanthropists and the Problem of Donor Intent.

In six of seven pre-trial rulings totaling 355 pages Judge Neil Shuster sided with the Robertson family, denying Princeton’s claim that it is the sole beneficiary of a 1961 gift of $35 million in stock to the Robertson Foundation. The Foundation’s assets are now valued at over $800 million. The Judge ruled that Princeton has fiduciary obligations to the Foundation and he denied Princeton’s request to dismiss the family’s claims.

The text of the Judge’s ruling will shortly appear on the Robertson family web page. Princeton has its own website on the issue and claims to have prevailed on key issues. But the Chronicle of Philanthropy rights points out that the judge’s refusal to dismiss the complaint is a victory for the Robertsons. The New York Times quotes the Robertson’s attorney:

“Even if things stopped right now, this is a huge victory for donors everywhere,” Ronald H. Malone, the lead lawyer for the Robertson family, said yesterday. “It shows that no matter how high and mighty a university might be, the law imposes on them a moral and legal obligation to use the money only for the purpose to which it was given.”

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