Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr.’s $26.5 million donation to the University of Alabama’s law school was the largest in the institution’s history, and the university thanked him by renaming the law school in Culverhouse’s honor.
But the gift wasn’t so large it bought the university’s integrity.
Culverhouse made not just state but national news when he called for a boycott of the University of Alabama in response to the Alabama Legislature passing a near-total ban on abortion. Even with some people already talking about boycotts following the passage of the bill, Culverhouse’s remarks stood out.
Here was a wealthy businessman, lawyer and philanthropist calling for a boycott of the very institution to which he’d just given a record donation. That is a statement.
But if it all seemed a little too quick, a little too convenient and a little too calculated to grab national attention, perhaps that’s because it was.
The University of Alabama responded by saying its dispute with Culverhouse predated the abortion law. Instead, it was about the university’s refusal to give into demands that, as the university described them, amounted to Culverhouse seeking to micromanage the law school in exchange for his donation.
That’s the sort of thing that, if true, and allowed to go on, can cost a university its accreditation.
So, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees did the responsible thing. It voted Friday to send Culverhouse’s money back. Within hours, the wire transfer was complete, and Culverhouse’s name was literally removed from the law school.
Nevertheless, Culverhouse persisted, claiming the university’s decision to return his money was retribution for his call for a boycott of the university over the restrictive abortion legislation, never mind it’s a strange sort of retribution that entails giving back $26.5 million.
So, over the weekend university officials released a selection of emails backing up their claim the dispute with Culverhouse not only predated but had nothing to do with abortion.
In a May 25 email, dated four days before Culverhouse’s boycott comment, university Chancellor Finis St. John IV “authorized a university lawyer to prepare an outline of what needed to be done to return the gift,” according to the Associated Press. St. John wrote, “We need to do this immediately because it will only get worse.”
Culverhouse said he believed this email was “manufactured,” the AP reported.
That seems, to put it modestly, unlikely. It seems more likely Culverhouse threw his weight around and was surprised when the university didn’t cave. He then used the abortion law as a convenient excuse to lash out.
This is not the first time the Culverhouse family has played hardball with the state of Alabama only to end up embarrassed.
Culverhouse’s late father, Hugh Culverhouse Sr., an Alabama grad for whom the university’s school of business is named, owned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and infamously botched signing Auburn’s Bo Jackson, who took a pay cut to play baseball with the Kansas City Royals rather than play for the Bucs after he became convinced Culverhouse Sr. deliberately tried to sabotage Jackson’s baseball career.
It appears now it’s twice that a Culverhouse has come to Alabama thinking money trumps principles. We are happy to report that both times, principles won out.