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Emails show Culverhouse dispute unrelated to abortion legislation

Newly released emails show the dispute between The University of Alabama and Hugh Culverhouse Jr. began at least four days before Culverhouse called for a boycott of the school following the state’s passage of restrictive abortion legislation.

University officials said in a statement they considered returning Culverhouse’s donation, the largest financial gift in the University’s history, and remove his name from the law school because of Culverhouse’s demands regarding law school operations.

The emails, released by The University of Alabama System, show that Finnis St. John, chancellor of UA System, made the suggestion to return Culverhouse’s $21.5 million donation on May 25, four days before Culverhouse spoke out about the abortion legislation. 

An email on May 24 to UA President Stuart Bell showed that Culverhouse requested the return of $10 million he paid ahead of scheduled payments because he was not pleased with candidates for an endowed chair position in his name. Culverhouse also made demeaning remarks in the email about Law School Dean Mark Brandon.

“I wanted a renowned Constitutional law professor,” Culverhouse said in the email. “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. I believe Mark, 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. I also know you have never dealt with a gift of my size-either for endowed professor or for a 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.”

Along with the emails, UA System released a statement reiterating that the dispute between the university and Culverhouse had nothing to do with his comments on the Alabama abortion legislation and was the result of Culverhouse attempting to interfere in law school operations.

“Our decision was never about the issue of abortion,” the UA System statement reads. “It was always about ending the continued outside interference by the donor in the operations of the University of Alabama School of Law. As the attached emails factually establish, the donor attempted to influence:

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  1. Student admissions;
  2. Scholarship awards;
  3. The hiring and firing of faculty;
  4. The employment status of the law school dean

The donor even sought to shield these emails from public view for reasons that are now obvious.”

Culverhouse issued a statement after the release of the emails, saying the emails show that the decision was made after his comments on the recent abortion legislation.

“I am glad the University of Alabama School of Law decided to release emails showing my communications with Stuart Bell and Mark Brandon,” Culverhouse said. “The emails further prove that UA returned my $21.5 million donation as retaliation for calling on students to reconsider attending a university that advocates a state law that discriminates against women and is unconstitutional. On my last email to UA officials on May 25, I requested the return of the $10 million I had paid well ahead of schedule with the intention of returning to the original payment schedule.”

Culverhouse added that he felt compelled to take a stand and call for a boycott, citing that his father was an officer of Planned Parenthood, and said he heard no talks of the university possibly returning his donation until after he made his public comments about the state’s abortion legislation and the call for a boycott of the university.

“The call for the boycott is unrelated to the issue discussed in the emails,” Culverhouse said. “Let me be clear, I never asked UA for the full $21.5 million to be returned nor did I hear UA officials discuss that option until after I called for the UA boycott on May 29.”

Culverhouse wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post on June 7, titled “I gave the University of Alabama $26.5 million.They gave it back when I spoke out about abortion,” claiming the university made their decision to return his donation because of his abortion comments.

A statement from Kellee Reinhart, senior vice chancellor of community relations for UA system, said Culverhouse’s claim was untrue.

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“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,” Reinhart 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.”

The University of Alabama Board of Trustees voted on June 7 to return the $21.5 million donation back to Culverhouse and remove his name from the law school.


Jessa Reid Bolling is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter and graduate of The University of Alabama with a B.A. in journalism and political science.

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