A week after Coral Gables philanthropist Hugh Culverhouse Jr. called for students to boycott the University of Alabama over the passage of a law banning nearly all abortions in the state, the university’s board of trustees voted Friday to give back a $21.5 million gift and remove his name from its law school.
Culverhouse, a top donor at the university and former Miami prosecutor, said the board decision was retaliation for “exercising free speech” and accused the university of lying to the public. The university stated Culverhouse’s “ongoing attempts to interfere in the operations of the Law School” led to the unanimous vote to return his money and cut ties with the donor.
Culverhouse said the issues he had with the law school, about decreasing enrollment numbers, had been resolved before he called for a boycott.
His $25.6 million pledge to the law school in 2018 was considered the largest gift in the university’s history, the school said at the time. The university wired $21.5 million — the amount he has paid so far — to him Friday.
On May 29, Culverhouse issued a call for a boycott of the state’s economy following the passage of the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, which would ban abortion except for when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. The bill would make performing an abortion a felony in almost all cases. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the legislation into law on May 16, and it is scheduled to go into effect in six months barring a successful legal appeal.
“It hurts,” he said of seeing workers remove his name from outside the law school. “It’s sad.”
The alleged retaliation, Culverhouse said, “reinforces old stereotypes” about the South.
“They don’t want to change,” he said. “They want to be seen as backwards, as crude, as anti-feminist as they can.”
In a statement to reporters, a university spokeswoman said “any attempt by Mr. Culverhouse to tie this action to any other issue is misleading and untrue.”
“The action taken by the Board today was a direct result of Mr. Culverhouse’s ongoing attempts to interfere in the operations of the Law School,” she said. “That was the only reason the Board voted to remove his name and return his money.”
Culverhouse, who has spent much of his down time in recent days speaking with reporters and answering fan mail, said the university’s reputation will be damaged.
“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” he said. “The problem for Alabama is Bloomberg picked this story up and they put it as one of their top stories for over an hour. And Bloomberg goes around the world. I’ve had emails from all around the globe, all of them saying, ‘Thank God you stood up for your beliefs.’ I cant read Chinese but I’m getting Chinese emails.”
Chancellor Finis E. St. John released a statement Friday that Culverhouse’s expectations for the use of his money had become “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,” he said. “While we are grateful to all of our donors and supporters, and very grateful to this donor and his family, donors do not dictate our administration of the University... One last point: we will learn from this — and always remember that we cannot and will not compromise the values of academic integrity and independent administration at any price.”