A decade ago, Roger Lindmark gave $300,000 to his alma mater, St. John’s University in Collegeville, to create a summer fellowship for students interested in corporate ethics.
Now he’s demanding his money back, saying the school bungled the program by paying students to study such unrelated topics as “romance in the workplace” and “wonderment in the classroom.”
Lindmark, a California attorney who graduated from St. John’s in 1974, is suing the university in federal court, demanding that the fellowship program be disbanded and that all leftover funds be returned to him.
“They were handing out the summer fellowship awards for all kinds of crazy topics,” said Lindmark, 67. “If students get expelled from school for failing their courses because they didn’t follow the rules, then the school should suffer the same punishment of losing the money.”
The university issued a brief statement Friday saying the endowment “has been handled appropriately” and that its staff has been working for a number of years to respond to Lindmark’s concerns.
St. John’s has filed a separate petition in state court, which it believes has jurisdiction in the dispute, saying it should not have to return any funds. “These academic matters should not be subject to the opinions of other individuals,” it says.
So far, 16 students have received a total of $112,000 in fellowship awards since 2010, according to the university.
Lindmark said the fellowship, known as the Lindmark Endowment, was created to pay two students a year a $7,000 stipend to spend the summer on campus doing research on business ethics.
“The object was for the students to produce a substantive academic paper which could be submitted for publication,” he said. “But none of the students produced anything of [a] worthy nature.”
Lindmark said he requested copies of the papers last fall and was disturbed when he read them.
“Only one was, arguably, relevant to the stated purposes of the Lindmark Endowment,” he said in his lawsuit. They included research on soil conservation, solar power and workplace romances — reasonable subjects, perhaps, he said, but not for this program.
He was particularly incensed about one fellowship recipient who submitted a five-page paper explaining why he couldn’t complete the assignment. That paper, which was included as an exhibit in the lawsuit, describes the student’s unsuccessful efforts to settle on a research topic after spending most of the summer reading works of literature.
“When I read the paper, which is more stream of consciousness, I was upset,” said Lindmark. “He didn’t know what he was doing. The professor should have given him some supervision or mentoring from the get-go. It’s really the fault of the faculty and ultimately the administration.”
Last November, Lindmark sent an angry letter to St. John’s President Michael Hemesath, saying he was outraged “at the entire mishandling of my endowment.” Lindmark demanded that the program’s staff be fired and that all remaining funds be returned to him.
He said St. John’s officials invited him to meet to try to resolve the dispute, but that the university unexpectedly filed a petition in Stearns County District Court in May to assert control over the funds.
The university, in its petition, says that it did its best to honor the terms of the endowment.
“[St. John’s] has made an effort to amicably address Lindmark’s concerns by offering to discuss clarifications, modifications or alternative uses for the Fund,” it said, to no avail. It has asked for a court ruling blocking any transfer of funds to Lindmark.
This month, Lindmark responded with the federal lawsuit seeking return of the money.
“I love St. John’s. I’ve supported them for the last 30 years or so,” he said. But for now, the endowment dispute has changed things. “There are better and more worthy charities that deserve my money.”