Another School, Another Major Donor, Another Awkward Situation

Public domain.

March 7, 2017; Worcester Telegram

Just a few days ago, NPQ reported that Harvard was to be required by court order to reveal all of the information they had gathered about a major donor in the process of processing his donations. Now, the Worcester Telegram reports that the ex-wife of a generous donor to Worcester Polytechnic Institute claims that $4.5 million of that money is, by rights, hers. Janet H. Foisie alleges that her ex-husband, Robert A. Foisie, had hidden money from her during their 2011 divorce—in a Swiss bank account, no less—and later donated it to the school.

Mr. Foisie gave a record $40 million gift to WPI in 2014. There’s a building on the WPI campus named for him: The Foisie Innovation Studio. According to a biography of him posted on the school’s website, Mr. Foisie started his career as an engineer and eventually made his fortune as an entrepreneur. His ventures included founding a Connecticut-based firm that specialized in paper-processing machinery and owning a Swiss company that manufactured packaging machines.

Janet Foisie argues her husband’s transfer of the money to WPI constituted an effort to “hinder, delay or defraud. […] Like one laundering the proceeds of a criminal enterprise, Robert sought to dispose of the funds for a purpose of his personal preference and choosing, rather than give it to his legitimate creditor Janet,” reads the complaint filed in federal court.

Meanwhile, WPI, caught in a difficult position, has issued a statement thanking both Foisies for being generous donors.

“Hundreds of students have benefited from their philanthropy over the years,” the university said. “We have no knowledge of any of the improper conduct alleged in the lawsuit. We hope the Foisies are able to work out their differences.”

We are certain that this hope is sincere; $4.5 million is on the line.—Ruth McCambridge