Paul L. Caron

Monday, June 10, 2019

Alabama Releases Emails Showing Donor Used Abortion Law As Preemptive Attack After Law School Decided To Return $21.5 Million Gift Due To His Meddling In Admissions, Scholarships, Faculty Hiring, Dean's Job Status

Alabama Logo (2019) (Crossed Out)Following up on my prior posts (links below): University of Alabama System, Statement (June 9, 2019) (17 pages):

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. As the attached emails factually establish, the donor attempted to influence:

  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.

These emails also clearly establish that Chancellor St. John's recommendation to refund all monies and rename the law school came on May 25 — 4 days prior to any public comment by the donor about abortion. The donor's continuing effort to rewrite history by injecting one of society's most emotional, divisive issues into this decision is especially distasteful. These facts should finally set the record straight., UA Emails Show Decision to Return Funds to Culverhouse Preceded Abortion Comments:

The University of Alabama planned to return Hugh Culverhouse Jr.'s donation and remove his name from the law school at least four days before Culverhouse called for a boycott of the school following the state’s passage of an abortion ban. ...

According to emails sent to, Finnis St. John, chancellor of UA System, suggested Culverhouse’s $21.5 million donation be returned on May 25, four days before Culverhouse spoke out about the abortion legislation. That followed a May 24 email request from Culverhouse that the University return $10 million.

The emails also showed Culverhouse’s interest in influencing student admissions, scholarships, faculty hiring and firing, and the employment status of the dean of the law school. ...

Hugh Culverhouse told today his statements about abortion legislation had nothing to do with his relationship with the law school. He said his goals for the school were to raise enrollment by seven percent and find a good constitutional law professor, but was frustrated the money he had already given the school had not been used yet to fund the law school., Culverhouse, UA Feud Was About Ego, Power and Money, Not Alabama’s Abortion Law:

In an op-ed published by The Washington Post on Friday, Hugh Culverhouse Jr., again framed his ongoing feud with the University of Alabama as a political dispute over the state’s near-total abortion ban. ...

There are big problems with that narrative, problems that show little of Culverhouse’s premise, if any, may be true, and that he hijacked the abortion debate and Alabama’s ugly moment in the national spotlight as a preemptive attack against the university.

The university has now released email exchanges between Culverhouse and university officials showing the dispute as something else entirely — a bitter, personal feud between the University and one of the institution’s biggest donors. Those emails show Culverhouse trying to influence hiring decisions, admissions and scholarships — and threatening to take his money out of the school when he didn’t get his way.

“I want to talk next week and go over every candidate, but your actions have resulted in my not giving any further gifts to Alabama and yesterday, I removed Alabama as a beneficiary from my will/trust,” Culverhouse wrote to the university’s law school dean on May 24. “That amount makes a mockery of the sums I have given.”

And those records show Chancellor Finis St. John first told trustee Joe Espy that the university should refund all of Culverhouse’s donations and un-rename the law school after Culverhouse — four days before Culverhouse made any publicly reported comments about the abortion ban.

Further, those records show Culverhouse mocking trustees, the university president and the law school dean, threatening to pull his money from the university unless those officials treated him with more deference, and eventually demanding at least $10 million back from the school.

Again, all before Culverhouse said a word in the press about Alabama’s abortion law.

The Crimson White, Emails Show Culverhouse Decision Unrelated to Abortion Ban:

The University of Alabama System has been adamant that the decision to return Hugh Culverhouse Jr.’s $21.5 million donation had nothing to do with his public disavowal of the Alabama abortion ban.

Now, they have receipts.

On Sunday, June 9, UA System spokeswoman Kellee Reinhart released email correspondences between trustee members regarding their decision to give the donor’s money back. While an official decision was made on Friday, new evidence reveals that conversations were brewing as early as May 17. ...

May 17, 2019, 8:52 a.m. – Culverhouse sent an email to Mark Brandon, dean of the law school, citing grievances about the college’s money-handling and requesting the law school treat him with the same courtesy he was given in the business school when picking candidates for the Chair positions. He stated that he felt he had not been thoroughly included in a decision to elect a chair in the constitutional law program.

“To date, I have been feted, and kept in the dark,” Culverhouse wrote. “I could give a crap about newspaper articles or even the name on the law school. I want the school to operate the best and for now, you need to forget the ratings.”

May 17, 9:03 a.m. – Brandon responded, stating that the search for a Chair had already begun, but that he include Culverhouse in choosing from a list of candidates. ...

May 18, 11:38 a.m. – Culverhouse sent a message to Brandon suggesting he assign someone else to handle recruiting trips, then requested Brandon send cost estimates and breakdowns on the library. He then stated that he’d like to sit in on a class, and demanded that no one restrict him from doing so.

May 19, 12:18 p.m. – Brandon forwarded Culverhouse’s message to Bell and Chad Tindol, the Chief Administrative Officer, with a draft of a response. He stated that he was wary of Culverhouse’s desire to wander into his classroom, citing threats to academic freedom.

May 23, 4:01 p.m. – Brandon sent a list of the Chair candidates to Culverhouse.

May 23, 4:38 p.m. – Culverhouse responded that he intends to attend the interviews for the Chair candidates. ...

May 24, 6:19 a.m. – Culverhouse responded to Brandon, re-stating previous grievances about not being involved early enough.

“I want to talk next week and go over every candidate, but your actions have resulted in my not giving any further gifts to Alabama and yesterday, I removed Alabama as a beneficiary from my will/trust,” he stated. “If you want to continue treating me as a subversive spy, simply change the name of the professorship to ‘The Richard Shelby Chair of Constitutional Law,’ and we will think of a cover story.”

May 24, 7:55 a.m. – Brandon apologized to Culverhouse, and promised to respond with more thought at a later time.

May 24, 1:14 p.m. – Culverhouse wrote to Bell, requesting back the $10 million he had paid ahead of the scheduled payment date.

May 24, 6:02 p.m. – Brandon issued another apology to Culverhouse and requested to set up a meeting to discuss candidates for the Culverhouse Chair. ...

May 25, 6:37 a.m. – Culverhouse wrote again to Bell complaining about Brandon and his dissatisfaction with the Chair search, claiming that he would not know anything about the candidates had Bell not ordered Brandon to relay that information.

“You seem to think 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,” he wrote, demanding Bell process the return of $10 mil of his payments.

May 25, 6:40 a.m. – Culverhouse responded to Brandon’s apology, stating, “at this point conversations are not worth the time.”

May 25, 3:32 p.m. – The Chancellor responded to Joe Espy, Chair of the Legal Committee of the board of trustees, about Culverhouse’s forwarded request, stating, “We need to do this immediately because it will only get worse.”

May 25, 3:49 p.m. – Espy requested Sid Trant of the System’s General Counsel create an outline for the return of Culverhouse’s donations, the renaming of the law school and the canceling of a constitutional law professorship. ...

May 28 at 4:24 p.m. – Chancellor Finis St. John sent out an email to the Board of Trustees strongly advising to return Culverhouse’s money, and that they would make a decision at the monthly meeting on June 7.

May 29 – Culverhouse’s team sent out a statement to media detailing his disappointment with what he viewed to be silence on matters of abortion legislation. ...

May 29 at 5:23 p.m. – Reinhart sent the Crimson White and other local affiliates a release with St. John’s attached memo, stating that the decision to return Culverhouse’s money was unrelated to the abortion ban.

June 7 – St. John officially returned Culverhouse’s donations, totaling $21.5 million.

Despite public misconceptions, the dispute between Culverhouse and the University had nothing to do with the abortion ban and started over a week before Culverhouse released statements about opposing the University because of the state’s abortion law. Instead, it was about his desire to impact decisions regarding the law school, including the hiring process for the Chair of the Constitutional Law program.

The emails make clear that Brandon’s trepidation came from not wanting to give Culverhouse power over the law school.

“I worry, too, that his logic will convert the Endowment for Excellence into a recipe for mediocrity,” Brandon said in a May 17 email to President Bell. “And it may well blow up the Law school. If one wanted to see Florida or Georgia leapfrog Alabama, this would be one way to do it.”

While Brandon opposed giving Culverhouse too much control over the law school, he does not reject the idea of having the donor in a consultant position.

“As for the search for a chair-holder, I’m happy to involve him, solicit advice, and get recommendations and preferences,” Brandon said in the same email. “But we’ll be in trouble with accrediting bodies- and vulnerable in the various courts of public opinion – if we are ceding responsibility for choosing chair-holders (or any tenure-line faculty) to non-academics.”

Tuscaloosa News, UA System: Returning Culverhouse Donation Never About Abortion op-ed:  What Culverhouse Got Wrong About UA Law, by Sarah Ann Hughes, 3L:

At first, I was amused by the developments, as any avid Real Housewives watcher would be. Then came the national media attention, with outlets like NPR, Jezebel and the Washington Post capitalizing on the events. Instead of investigating the facts surrounding the spat and publishing the full story, they leaned into tired tropes about Alabama and our backward ways. Instead of reporting the truth—that the dispute is likely more about his desire to control the school’s purse strings—some of these outlets allowed their writers to take cheap shots at the school, its students, and its faculty.

Culverhouse, Jr. and these media platforms couldn’t be more wrong about the faculty’s curricula and what we learn in the classroom. He, of course, has no way of knowing that—he didn’t even go here.

It’s ridiculous to imply that the school has an official anti-abortion stance when, in fact, the professors who teach Constitutional Law at the University emphasize the principle of stare decisis and the importance of understanding the historical and cultural contexts that come along with watershed cases like Roe v Wade.

Hell, without the instruction of constitutional law scholar Professor Bryan K. Fair, I couldn’t even begin to understand or express the exact legal reasons to loudly and proudly oppose the abortion ban. Because of the education I’ve received at UA Law, I know the legal and real world consequences of HB314 for people who need access to abortion, as well as the consequences for the taxpayers of Alabama who will fund the state’s (very expensive) defense of the law in the years to come.

Despite the entertainment factor of the recent dispute between UA and Culverhouse, Jr., I say we move on and leave Mr. Culverhouse and his bag full of dirty tricks in the past. Let’s get to work figuring out exactly how we can best prepare ourselves to seek justice and protect those who will be impacted the most by the abortion ban.

There are students enrolled at the school right now that are planning to use their legal education from this top-25 legal institution to advocate for reproductive rights for all in Alabama and nationwide.

Lastly, I’ve got an idea for the money Culverhouse, Jr. was so eager to give to UA. The West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, the Alabama Women’s Center in Huntsville, and Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery are the state’s only facilities where one can receive an abortion. All three clinics are independently owned and rely on donations to fund their operations. The staff at these clinics share resources and work together to ensure safe and affordable abortion access for people in Alabama, and they could surely use the money.

Washington Post, ‘That Bridge Is Gone. They Burned It’: One of the University of Alabama’s Biggest Donors Responds After Trustees Return $21 Million Gift:

The decision “was a direct result of Mr. Culverhouse’s ongoing attempts to interfere in the operations of the Law School,” Kellee Reinhart, a spokeswoman for the university system, said in a statement Friday. “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.” ...

Chancellor Finis E. St. John IV said in a written statement Friday that “it has become clear that the donor’s expectations for the use and application of that gift have been inconsistent with the essential values of academic integrity and independent administration of the Law School and the University. Despite the diligent efforts and good faith of our Dean and President, there is no path forward consistent with those values.”

Donors do not dictate school policy, he said, and it was for those reasons, “alone" that he recommended returning the gift and dropping the Culverhouse name from the law school.

Officials would not compromise “the values of academic integrity and independent administration at any price,” he wrote. ...

Culverhouse said Friday he was disappointed, and somewhat humiliated, to see two men in the middle of the day knocking his name off the law-school sign. ...

Culverhouse questioned why his other donations — more than $9 million, he said, to other programs, including the business school, women’s golf and ballet — were not returned.


Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


Unemployed Northeasterner - I think the primary distinction here is the GMU situation is a willing donor & willing recipient, and as you noted, the conditions were explicit and up front.

Yes, but the agreement with the Koch's allows non-leftists to influence the direction of an academic institution, and we can't have that because reasons.

Posted by: Art Deco | Jun 11, 2019 10:54:22 PM

Unemployed Northeasterner - I think the primary distinction here is the GMU situation is a willing donor & willing recipient, and as you noted, the conditions were explicit and up front. The Alabama situation doesn't seem to have a recipient who agreed to the ex post facto conditions the donor wanted to impose. And so the GMU donors didn't have to lie about anything. Large donors often put strings attached to the gifts they make. The issue is usually whether the recipients live up to those strings, which they knew about at the time of the gifts.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Jun 11, 2019 3:57:14 AM

As Michael Perry knows, the people who can best criticize Alabama with implied permission are Auburn fans. Culverhouse is just an amateur.

Posted by: Woody | Jun 10, 2019 7:40:50 PM

The decision to return his entire gift of 21.5 mn was made ten days AFTER his pubic call for a boycott of the University. How can anyone with any sense of the fiduciary obligations of a board of trustees believe that a boycott call by a major donor was NOT a factor in that board's decision to rescind the donation?

Posted by: Steve Diamond | Jun 10, 2019 4:47:38 PM

Ah, just as I suspected (and posted here). Culverhouse has been behaving like a jerk for a long time and that prior behavior was the reason for this parting of the ways. But I apparently got the give and take wrong. I thought his abortion rant was the final straw for Alabama. Now we find out that they'd already dumped him for other reasons, and he is trying to make abortion the reason rather than his bullying in general.

When I lived in Israel, there was a Hebrew word whose English roots were obvious "Beegshot" which when anglicized becomes "Big Shot." Israeli Jews used it of wealthy American Jews who came to Israel and tried to use their money to dictate what was done. It's a perfect description for this Culverhouse. Good riddance!

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Jun 10, 2019 4:40:52 PM

It's a good thing that emails were not wiped from the University servers, "like with a cloth." Culverhouse, Jr. just embarrassed himself with his alternative narrative. The Trustees at Alabama are pretty tough and did the right thing regarding his interference.

Posted by: Woody | Jun 10, 2019 10:24:18 AM

Just want to point out that the Koch Foundation baked in similar control in various donations it gave to George Mason, as reported in Inside Higher Ed - control of faculty hires, advisory boards to review professors, etc. - George Mason didn't return the money, didn't disclose the conditions to anyone, and even after it was brought to light, it didn't get a tenth of the attention this is getting.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jun 10, 2019 9:47:22 AM

Is Culverhouse a licensed attorney? Shouldn't the Alabama Character & Fitness committee take a look at this? I thought dishonesty was not looked at favorably by state bars?

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Jun 10, 2019 5:54:44 AM