Internal emails show Culverhouse donation refund was never about abortion, he called for ‘cover story’
The University of Alabama System on Sunday definitively proved that returning Hugh Culverhouse, Jr.’s record donation was never about abortion, providing emails that showed the recommendation was made four days prior to any public remarks he made about the subject.
In a statement accompanying a number of documents and electronic correspondences between UA administration, System officials and Culverhouse himself, a System spokesperson emphasized, “Our decision was never about the issue of abortion. It was always about ending the continued outside interference by the donor in the operations of The University of Alabama School of Law.”
The statement and document dump came after The Washington Post published an op-ed from Culverhouse in which he made several claims that are now refuted by the System’s records.
The System spokesperson advised Culverhouse had even been attempting to bar the emails from being released “for reasons that are now obvious.”
The emails show objectively that Culverhouse was trying to influence the law school’s student admissions; scholarship awards; the hiring and firing of faculty; and the employment status of the law school dean himself.
“The donor’s continuing effort to rewrite history by injecting one of society’s most emotional, divisive issues into this decision is especially distasteful,” the System spokesperson concluded.
While Culverhouse first denounced Alabama’s new abortion ban law to Florida Politics on May 29, emails show that University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis “Fess” St. John and Trustee Joe Espy on May 25 recommended the return of the donation amount Culverhouse had already paid — along with the cancellation of the amount yet to be paid and the renaming of the law school.
This came after an early morning May 25 email from Culverhouse to UA President Stuart Bell, in which Culverhouse admitted his expectation of “quid pro quo” was not being met. In that lengthy email, Culverhouse bashed the law school dean, Mark Brandon, repeatedly and trashed the nationally highly ranked law school as “mediocre.”
“I also know you have never dealt with a gift of my size-either for endowed professor or a something as large as to change the name of the law school. You are unprepared,” Culverhouse wrote to Bell. “Mark will always be a small town, insecure dean. The outside world frightens him.”
Culverhouse then said as a result of his demands about admitting more students and the hiring of personnel not being met, the amount of his donation he had paid ahead of schedule ($10 million) should be returned.
“And, if you want to tell the board of [trustees] for the state, fine,” Culverhouse signed off.
“I would like those funds returned. You can send a check or wire transfer,” he further outlined in a separate email.
In subsequent public comments, Culverhouse has said he never asked for a refund of his donation.
In his The Washington Post op-ed, misleadingly entitled, “I gave the University of Alabama $26.5 million. They gave it back when I spoke out about abortion,” Culverhouse brazenly alleged, “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.”
On his abortion comments, Culverhouse claimed, “I expected that speaking out would have consequences, but I never could have imagined the response from the University of Alabama, which on Friday said it would be returning my gift and removing my name from the law school.”
This came in spite of the facts exposed by the emails and documents released Sunday — and that Culverhouse on Friday had said in a statement, “I expected this response from UA.”
Internal emails also showed that Culverhouse had demanded the right to freely roam the law school, walking into ongoing classes unannounced. Additionally, he had desired for ten professors to be fired, along with alterations to the law school’s financial operations.
Writing to Bell the night of May 24, Culverhouse complained about the prospective candidates to become the law school’s new constitutional law chair, decrying that his name would be “attached” to any of their hires.
“It is a joke,” Culverhouse wrote of the potential professors at the then-Hugh F. Culverhouse, Jr. School of Law. “Use another name.”
In an email from the previous week, Culverhouse had written, “I could give a crap about newspaper articles or even the name on the law school.”
Speaking of the law school’s high national rankings, Culverhouse told the dean, “[Y]ou need to forget the ratings.”
Emails show that while disagreeing with Culverhouse’s attempts to influence law school hiring decisions and the like, administrators were trying to continue constructive dialogue with him until he blew up over a two-day period, finally writing to the law school dean on May 25, “Mark-at this point conversations are not worth the time.”
This came the day after he admitted at being “mad” at the school for not heeding his demands.
Culverhouse even wrote to Brandon that he had removed the University of Alabama completely from his will and trust on May 23 and would no longer be giving any more gifts during his lifetime to the university.
“That amount makes a mockery of the sums I have [already] given,” Culverhouse bragged. “It is gone. You have already cost University of Alabama Law School a fortune. We will see the next few months if you can change your relationship with me. You may also learn my approach is beneficial.”
Later in that email, he suggested changing the name of the constitutional law chairmanship to “The Richard Shelby Chair of Constitutional Law” and inventing a “cover story” for Culverhouse’s demands not being met. He said the same could be done with the law school “after a financial settlement is reached and accomplished.”
“One of the terms of a settlement would be I will not give any money to any other law school or discuss anything about the Alabama Law School,” Culverhouse concluded in that email.
On June 3, well after St. John had publicly recommended the return of all his money and Culverhouse had begun his public abortion spectacle, Culverhouse wrote to a System attorney requesting that the emails and documents not be publicly released.
Read the emails for yourself here.
.@UASystem has said this entire time that this was all about an ongoing dispute unrelated to abortion. That is now indisputable.
— Sean Ross (@sean_yhn) June 9, 2019
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn