Princeton ‘Hedge Fund’ Shortchanging Hometown, Leaders Cry

Jul 2 2010 | 10:06am ET

“Is [Princeton] University some type of old-fashioned institution full of scholarly gentlemen with modest salaries and a devotion to education?” Princeton Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes asks. “Or is it a hedge fund with $16 billion, promoting an educational arm on the side?”

Fighting words from a member of the tony New Jersey town’s cash-strapped government, as it struggles to make do with less: Princeton Borough has had to cut back on its police force and garbage pickup, while the larger Princeton Township has had to lay off 24 teachers and cut back on public works hours. And the fault, according to some, lies with the university itself, which uses its tax-exempt status to save some $28 million per year in taxes.

Princeton does pay most than $10 million per year in taxes to the borough. But the university boasts an endowment of $12.6 billion, much of it indeed invested in hedge funds, making it the fourth-richest university in the U.S. It also owns nearly half of the land in the borough and 13% of the township, and doesn’t do as much as the first- and second-richest universities, Harvard and Yale, according to Princeton’s critics.

“If Harvard and Yale’s contributions are higher, why not bring Princeton into line?” one borough store owner asked Bloomberg News.

Peter Kann, a former Dow Jones CEO and now head of a Princeton civic organization, also takes the university to task.

Princeton “give[s] the appearance of being wonderful donors to the town, but compared with what they would be giving the town if they were paying property taxes, it’s really trifling.”

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