University of Alabama returns gift after abortion protest

Institution surrenders $26.5 million (£20.8 million) after donor urges student boycott over women’s rights

June 11, 2019
Bryant-Denny Stadium on the campus of University of Alabama

The University of Alabama returned the largest gift in its history, a $26.5 million (£20.8 million) donation from Hugh Culverhouse, after the philanthropist encouraged a boycott of the institution over a new anti-abortion law.

Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, last month signed the law outlawing nearly all abortions, with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, as part of move by several states apparently aimed at forcing the US Supreme Court to reconsider the nationwide right to abortion.

Mr Culverhouse made the donation last September to the university, which in turn named its law school after his father. He then criticised the abortion bill and suggested students put pressure on Alabama politicians by choosing other states to attend college.

“I don’t want anybody to go to that law school, especially women, until the state gets its act together,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

The University of Alabama system’s board of trustees voted on 7 June to reject the donation and return the $21.5 million of it that had already been paid.

The university system’s chancellor, Finis St John, said in a statement that the trustees’ vote had no relation to Mr Culverhouse’s comments about the new abortion law. The trustees instead were upset by multiple demands by Mr Culverhouse about the use of the donation, Mr St John said.

But Mr Culverhouse, a real estate investor and lawyer, said he understood the vote to be a clear reaction to his comments concerning the abortion law. Writing in The Washington Post, he accused university leaders of choosing “zealotry over the well-being of its own students”.

Immediately after the trustees’ vote, the university physically removed the name of Mr Culverhouse’s late father, also called Hugh Culverhouse, from the law school.

Mr Culverhouse wrote in the Post that his father worked in the 1950s with Planned Parenthood, a reproductive health care organisation whose services include abortion, and clearly would have protested the Alabama law.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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