U Alabama returns $21.5M donation after pro-choice donor tries to influence its operation

But the school has released emails that paint a RATHER different picture.

A University of Alabama donor wrote an op-ed suggesting that the school gave his massive donation back because of his pro-choice views.

The University of Alabama returned a $21.5 million donation after the donor attempted to influence the law school regarding scholarships, hiring and firing, student admissions, and other aspects of the school.

Hugh Culverhouse, the donor who gave the university the mass sum, attempted to paint a different picture of why the money was returned. In an op-ed for The Washington Post, he argued “I gave the University of Alabama $26.5 million. They gave it back when I spoke out about abortion.” 

At the time of initial publication of this article on Tuesday, the Post’s op-ed still stated that Culverhouse’s donation was refunded because of the donor’s abortion statements, despite the university releasing the emails on Monday.

“It has been painful to witness administrators at the university choose zealotry over the well-being of its own students, but it’s another example of the damage this attack on abortion rights will do to Alabama,” Culverhouse wrote in the op-ed.

Following the Friday publication of the op-ed, the University of Alabama released a set of emails between prominent university figures and Culverhouse, showing that the decision to return the money was not because of politics, but rather because of the influence Culverhouse tried to exert over the law school.

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“Our decision was never about the issue of abortion,” the university system said in a statement. “It was always about ending the continued outside interference by the donor in the operations of The University of Alabama School of Law.”

According to AL.com, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees voted June 7 to give back the $21.5 million that Culverhouse had so far donated, $5 million short of the $26.5 million he had originally pledged.

Emails released by UA show that Culverhouse attempted to influence hiring and operations at the university.

In an email chain to Stuart Bell, president of the University of Alabama, wherein the donor asked for the return of $10 million of his donation, Culverhouse expressed his disdain toward the current law school dean, Mark Brandon.

“I wanted a renowned Constitutional law professor,” the donor said. “Someone to make academic waves...These are nice additions to a 3880 faculty with an insecure dean-but they are hardly nationally stature constitutional law figures.” 

Culverhouse was referring to the filling of a constitutional law chair at the UA law school, candidates for which the school had shared with him.

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“I believe Mark [Brandon], you and I come from different concepts.I want the best law school, not a mediocre law school, whose ranking is a simple mathematical manipulation,” the donor said. “I also know you have never dealt with a gift of my size-either for endowed professor or for...something as large as to change the name of the law school. You are unprepared. Mark will always be a small town, insecure dean. The outside world frightens him.”

“I do not like any of these candidates for an endowed professorship...please do not associate my name with any of the people, if they are hired.”

In another email, Brandon refers to Culverhouse’s apparent desire to visit classrooms without obtaining prior permission from professors, suggesting that he would not allow this for reasons pertaining to academic freedom, as well as the donor’s “professed desire to fire ten professors.”

Culverhouse told AL.com in an article published May 29 that people should boycott the state of Alabama, including the University of Alabama, over the state’s controversial abortion law. He said a boycott with out-of-state students would get the state’s attention.

“All foreign and U.S. international firms that do business in Alabama should boycott,” Culverhouse told AL.com. “It would get the law changed quickly.”

Another statement by the university system chancellor made clear that influence over university policy cannot be bought.

“We will learn from this – and always remember that we cannot and will not compromise the values of academic integrity and independent administration at any price,” Chancellor Finis E. St. John said.

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Kellee Reinhart, a spokeswoman for the UA system, told Campus Reform that the $21.5 million was wire transferred to Culverhouse June 7. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10