The University of Alabama voted Friday morning to return a $21.5 million donation to a Florida businessman after administrators said he was trying to meddle in the operations of the law school, which had been renamed for him.
The businessman, Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr., had pledged a total of $26.5 million, the largest donation in the university’s 187-year history, the School of Law announced with great enthusiasm and fanfare last September. In return, university officials renamed the law school, based in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. School of Law.
But tensions had publicly bubbled up in recent weeks, with Mr. Culverhouse reportedly dictating how he wanted the money spent and then calling on students to boycott the school over the state’s recently passed legislation that would outlaw nearly all abortions in Alabama. Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, last month signed the bill into law, paving the way for a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court case that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy.
School officials said the state’s abortion law, and Mr. Culverhouse’s reaction to it, had nothing to do with their concerns about the millionaire patron. In a May 29 statement, the school said instead that, “Donors may not dictate University administration.”
Mr. Culverhouse, a lawyer and real estate executive, had “complained about the law school’s administration” of his gift, and at one point had asked for the return of $10 million of the $21.5 million he had already given, according to a May 28 memo to the university system’s board of trustees from Finis St. John IV, the chancellor.
In the memo, Mr. St. John recommended returning all of the money to Mr. Culverhouse and taking his name off the school. On Friday morning, the board of trustees voted unanimously to return the money, according to Kellee Reinhart, a spokeswoman for the university system.
Ms. Reinhart added that the $21.5 million was sent back to Mr. Culverhouse via wire transfer. Soon after the vote, a crew began removing the signage.
Mr. Culverhouse told the ABA Journal that he was dismayed that his money was not being put toward scholarships and that he wanted to see student enrollment at the law school grow by 8 percent. According to Mr. Culverhouse, the law school dean resisted that idea.