TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (ChurchMilitant.com) - After refusing to capitulate to a $26.5 million donor's administrative demands, the University of Alabama (UA) returned his donation with interest and removed his name from the law school. The donor subsequently claimed he reneged on the deal due to Alabama's recently passed pro-life bill.
News sources have erroneously reported Hugh Culverhouse Jr. either requested the school return his donation in retaliation for the state's adoption of one of the nation's strongest pro-life laws or the school returned the donation after Culverhouse urged a boycott of the school because of a perceived complicity with the law's passage. He had pledged $26.5 million, of which he had already donated $21.5 million.
However, documents released by the university reveal Culverhouse had requested the return of his donation, the largest in the school's history, prior to his public statements concerning the Alabama law. He subsequently advised potential law school students refrain from seeking education in the state.
The emails reveal the donor attempting to micromanage university officials and the appropriation of his donated funds. These attempts included Culverhouse inserting himself in key hiring decisions as well as endeavoring to influence the size and scope of law school admissions.
When the university balked, Culverhouse requested the university return the money he had donated thus far. He then proceeded to frame the incident as a principled stand for progressive liberal values by recommending a boycott of the school in retaliation against the state's law passed last month that classifies abortion a felony for doctors performing the procedure in instances when there's no risk to the mother of an unborn child.
According to a statement from Culverhouse quoted in The New York Times, the Florida real estate mogul disingenuously linked UA law school faculty with events occurring in the state legislature.
"As a lawyer, I cannot countenance a law school, especially one which bears my name, teaching state law that I believe to be wrong both constitutionally and morally," he said. "No accomplished law professor would join a law school which teaches law that is proudly unconstitutional."
He also warned out-of-state industries about the "consequences" of conducting business in a pro-life state.
Culverhouse's statement is contradicted directly by not only the UA's email dump, but also by statements from UA administrative officials. For example, Kellee Reinhart, vice chancellor for communication, released a statement in which she explained the university's decision to return Culverhouse's donation.
"The action taken by the Board today was a direct result of Mr. Culverhouse's ongoing attempts to interfere in the operations of the Law School," she said. "That was the only reason the Board voted to remove his name and return his money. Any attempt by Mr. Culverhouse to tie this action to any other issue is misleading and untrue."
Reinhart's sentiments were seconded by Chancellor Finis E. St. John:
As you also know, the law school received a significant pledge last year. Since that time, it has become clear that the donor's expectations for the use and application of that gift have been inconsistent with the essential values of academic integrity and independent administration of the Law School and the University. Despite the diligent efforts and good faith of our Dean and President, there is no path forward consistent with those values. While we are grateful to all of our donors and supporters, and very grateful to this donor and his family, donors do not dictate our administration of the University.
For these reasons, and these reasons alone, it is my recommendation that we return this donor's gift in its entirety, plus earnings, and restore the name of the law school as "The University of Alabama School of Law."
"I will not allow my family's name to be associated with an educational system that advocates a state law which discriminates against women, disregards established Federal law and violates our Constitution," Culverhouse shot back. "I want to make clear that I never demanded that $21.5 million be refunded and wonder if the University is attempting to silence my opinions by their quick response."
In a phone interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Culverhouse unironically described Alabama's pro-life law as "draconian," which is a term designating laws requiring unnecessarily harsh punishments, including death, for committing relatively minor crimes. His late parents both attended UA, his father was an owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers National Football League franchise and both parents were longtime Planned Parenthood supporters.