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Dartmouth took donor’s millions, ignored his wishes: lawsuit


New Hampshire’s highest court has yet to issue a ruling

Dartmouth College should return millions of dollars in donations from a deceased supporter because it is no longer honoring his wishes, his estate continues to argue in court.

Alumnus Robert Keeler left money specifically for “upgrading and maintaining” Dartmouth’s Hanover Country Club golf course in his will.

But now representatives of Keeler’s (pictured) estate argue that the Ivy League university has not upheld its end of the agreement because it is using the money for the school’s golf teams instead of the country club, which it closed.

“Keeler’s estate and foundation have asked the court to essentially reopen the modification request and give them the right to show why Dartmouth should be forced to return the money,” the New Hampshire Bulletin reported. There is approximately $3.8 million left that Dartmouth is being asked to return, the newspaper reported.

The Supreme Court of New Hampshire has yet to issue a ruling as of June 12, according to a College Fix search. (The court released an opinion on July 13 which ruled against the estate.)

The Attorney General’s Charitable Trusts Unit, which oversees the proper use of charitable funds, has said that Dartmouth can spend the money on “golf related” purposes since the original intent is no longer viable. In February, a court ruling agreed with the Charitable Trusts Unit, according to the Bulletin.

The Fix contacted the Charitable Trusts Unit by email and asked what legal analysis the unit relied on for determining Dartmouth could keep Keeler’s donation. A spokesman told The Fix that he could not comment on pending litigation.

On May 12, Peter Mithoefer, the executor of Keeler’s estate, wrote a letter to the editor in The Dartmouth and demanded that the college return the money.

“It is clear that Dartmouth wants the golf course land to build dormitories and other buildings,” Mithoefer wrote in the student newspaper.

“President Hanlon and Dartmouth are making a Faustian bargain with the use of a suspect interpretation of a legal argument that flies in the face of the agreement it made with the donor,” he alleged.

The Fix reached out to the communications office at Dartmouth on May 29 and asked if the college would comment on the criticism of the college’s action by Mithoefer and if it thought future donors might be dissuaded from giving money as a result of the college’s handling of Keeler’s money.

The college has yet to respond.

An attorney for Keeler’s estate said that the result of an adverse court ruling would diminish donations in the future.

“If this stands, the idea that when a donor makes a gift with conditions, that those conditions are supposed to be honored, that rule does not exist anymore in New Hampshire,” John Laboe told the Bulletin.

He did not respond to a request for comment from The Fix sent in the past two weeks that asked for an update on the case.

Editor’s note: The article has been updated with a link to the court ruling against the estate.

MORE: Mizzou gives Hillsdale millions to settle lawsuit over donor’s intent

IMAGE: Peter Mithoefer/New Hampshire Bulletin

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Brendan McDonald is a student at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire.