University of Alabama Returns $21.5 Million Gift to School’s Largest Donor

The University of Alabama’s (UA) board of trustees voted on June 7 to return a $21.5 million donation from lawyer and investor Hugh Culverhouse Jr. Within hours of meeting, school officials began removing his name from law school signage. 

The move comes after Culverhouse encouraged prospective students to boycott the university in the wake of Alabama’s new abortion law, which would make nearly all abortions there illegal even in cases of rape or incest if it goes into effect. The law has been challenged in court.

“It has been painful to witness administrators at the university choose zealotry over the well-being of its own students,” wrote Culverhouse in an opinion column published by the Washington Post. He went on to describe the decision as a “charade,” citing the fact that the governor of Alabama, who signed the abortion bill into law, is a voting trustee at UA.  

Culverhouse’s primary objection to the Alabama law is that he believes it defies the United States Constitution. In his column, he wrote, “The ban on abortion they passed wasn’t just an attack against women. It was an affront to the rule of law itself. … The Courts settled this matter a long time ago: Abortion is legal.”

University officials dispute Culverhouse’s claim that the return of his gift has anything to do with the latest legislation. Kellee Reinhart, UA’s vice chancellor for communication, released a statement the same day as the vote saying that the board’s action was “a direct result of Mr. Culverhouse’s ongoing attempts to interfere in the operations of the Law School.” 

According to The New York Times, Culverhouse had been embroiled in disagreements with the university for several months following the announcement of his gift, expressing his disapproval of enrollment numbers at the law school as well as concern that not enough was being spent on student scholarships. 

The New York Times reports that Culverhouse sent a memo to the board of trustees a day before he spoke out against Alabama’s abortion law asking for $10 million of his gift to be returned. Culverhouse denied this assertion. 

On Friday, he renewed his call for students to boycott the university and told The Washington Post that he supports the American Civil Liberties Union’s challenge of Alabama’s abortion law. In addition, he says he plans to investigate alternative ways to “support students in reaching their true potential.” 

Ginger O’Donnell is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. This article ran in the July/August 2019 issue.