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Return of Culverhouse gift decided days before abortion controversy

University of Alabama

Hugh Culverhouse repeatedly insulted the dean of the University of Alabama Law School, took shots at the university president, demanded to personally approve the hire of professors and expected to be able to wander in and out of classes unannounced, according to several emails obtained Sunday by APR.

The emails between Culverhouse and UA officials highlight a contentious relationship, with university trustees already openly discussing returning Culverhouse’s $26.5 million donation, for which the school named its law school for the Florida millionaire, well before Culverhouse encouraged students to boycott UA’s law school over the abortion ban in Alabama. Those emails also paint a far different story than the national narrative that has taken shape following Culverhouse’s calls for a boycott.

In fact, four days prior to Culverhouse’s first public comments about Alabama’s abortion ban, trustee and Montgomery attorney Joe Espy and UA chancellor Finis St. John had already agreed to return Culverhouse’s donations and to remove his name from the law school.

“… please prepare for me an outline of what needs to be done to accomplish the return of the $10 million; the return of the $1.5 million; return of any other money that he has donated; and what needs to be done in regard to renaming the law school…,” Espy wrote to UA legal counsel Sid Trant on May 25 — a full four days prior to Culverhouse’s boycott comments. “What he has said about our president and dean are absolutely unacceptable.”

In a reply to Espy, St. John agreed: “We need to do this immediately because it will only get worse,” he wrote.

A series of emails, released by the university on Sunday, make it easy to understand why UA officials wanted to rid themselves of Culverhouse.

Earlier in the day on May 25, Culverhouse had written to UA president Stuart Bell, who was attempting to calm Culverhouse and walk the major donor back off a ledge. Instead, Culverhouse was demanding the return of $10 million — one payment on his $26.5 million pledge.

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In that email, Culverhouse took numerous shots at UA law school dean Mark Brandon. Culverhouse was mad at Brandon over the dean’s choice of potential professors who would fill a new constitutional law role at UA.

Culverhouse wanted a “renowned” professor who would “make academic waves.” Instead, Brandon, who Culverhouse called “insecure” and “small town,” had provided candidates that were “nice,” but not exactly of “national stature,” according to Culverhouse.

In the same email, Culverhouse told Bell that he was “unprepared” as president.

“You seem to think that the quid pro quo is I give you the largest sum and commitment in the school’s history and you have no return consideration as your end of the transaction,” Culverhouse wrote to Bell. “‘Thanks for the money — Good Bye.’ You were just not prepared. So process the return of the payments.”

The problems with Culverhouse, who announced his donations last September, had been festering for quite some time, as he attempted to insert himself into the daily operations of the law school, particularly in the areas for which his donations would be used. Not only did he want to sit in on professor interviews and wander in and out of classes, he also suggested at least one person to be hired for a student recruitment role.

Two weeks prior to his boycott announcement, Culverhouse told Brandon that several professors in the law school needed to be fired, because their professor-to-student ratio was losing money.

“Frankly, I think his assumptions and analysis are flawed,” Brandon wrote to Bell on May 17.

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Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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