Culverhouse emails tell a different story on University of Alabama feud
By Todd Stacy and Caroline Beck, Alabama Daily News
A series of emails released by the University of Alabama System show the dispute that led to a parting of ways with mega-donor Hugh Culverhouse preceded the comments he made about abortion.
The University on Friday voted to return $26.5 million in donations from Culverhouse and removed his name from the law school, saying his expectations of the money was “inconsistent with the essential values of academic integrity and independent administration” at Alabama.
Culverhouse claimed in a Washington Post op-ed that the University’s actions were in response to his comments criticizing the state for its recently-enacted abortion law and calling on prospective students to boycott the law school. However, emails released by the University show the campus dispute preceded those comments and were over institutional decisions between Culverhouse and campus officials.
“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,” the University of Alabama System said in a statement accompanying the email released.
Here is a rundown of the emails.
Email from Hugh Culverhouse to Mark Brandon—May 17, 2019. 8:52 a.m.
This email appears to be the beginning of Culverhouse’s requests to law school Dean Mark Brandon and possibly the beginning of his red flags to Brandon.
In this email, Culverhouse explains to Brandon how it worked for him when he had a role in the business school. He explains how he had input over replacing someone in the business school and says “it was an acknowledgement of my involvement and commitment,” and he wants the same to be done for the law school.
“I expect the same protocol at the law school. I really don’t care if the faculty likes, dislikes me.”—Hugh
He then goes on to explain the law school’s enrollment figures and how most of the people that accept to go there as a “safe choice” so they are losing a lot of money. He suggests that they need to either increase the student body or reduce teachers and support staff.
“I would ask you to include me as I am the biggest donor and I have a certain set of skills that can help. To date, I have been feted, and kept in the dark. 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.”
Email from Mark Brandon to Stuart Bell (president of UA) and Chad Tindol (Chief admin officer for UA)—May 17, 2019. 9:30 a.m
Brandon forwards Culverhouse’s email to Bell and Tindol saying that he thinks Culverhouse has no idea what he’s talking about and “misunderstands the mission and fiscal logic of a university, the environment in which the Law School operate, the nature of decision making in a public academic institution, and relationships between the school of law and the university.”
He’s worried that what Culverhouse is trying to do will “blow up the law school” and allow Florida and Georgia to get ahead of them in rankings. Brandon also says that he is “completely transparent” when it comes to the fiscal reports. But says that he is hesitant in allowing Culverhouse to choose chair-holders because “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.”
Then he explains how he plans on talking with Culverhouse and setting up a time to talk about all of this further.
Email from Hugh Culverhouse to Mark Brandon—- May 18, 2019. 11:38 a.m.
Culverhouse offers up a person whose name has been redacted to “take a burden off of you” when it comes to helping make student admission choices. Then he asks about what to do with the library and the estimates for costs. Then he outlines how he would like to work out with the Arts and Science school “about displaying my Japanese art (will be donated on death)” then he gets into wanting the ability to “just wonder about” when he comes to campus and be able to pick any class he wants to sit in on. Culverhouse says he doesn’t need anyone to guide him around or any excuse to have attention given to him.
“I don’t need attention. That period is over…and I don’t need to come to meeting as an excuse for getting good seats to a football game.”—Hugh
Then ends the email very oddly by just simply saying “you get 1500 applicants….you can have a fine law school with 500-600 students.”
Email from Mark Brandon to Stuart Bell—May 19, 2019. 12:18 p.m.
Brandon tells Bell that there are some problems with Culverhouse’s request, such as offering up a coordinator for prospective students. He also is very uncomfortable with the request to just walk into any class he wants.
“His desire to have free rein to wander into classrooms.” Brandon says this is for reasons of “academic freedom,” but also Culverhouse has said he wants to fire ten professors already there and he doesn’t want the faculty to be scrutinized by Culverhouse at any moment.
Email from Hugh Culverhouse to Mark Brandon— May 24, 2019. 6:19 a.m.
Culverhouse writes at length about all of the connections he has created over the years and how important his relationships with other lawyers and other universities are important to keep a school growing.
“I live in a large world. You live in an insular place. You do not truest [SIC] others. Everything is a secret. The workings and plans of the school should be secret, but being friends with lawyers and staff adn presidents from other schools is helpful.”—Hugh
Culverhouse goes on to say that Brandon has cost the school a bunch of money and says that you need to be better with alumni like him who will actually donate to the school instead of just ask for football tickets. He also gives ideas of how to make this change quietly and create a “cover story” for the media.
“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. The same can be done with the law school, after a financial settlement is reached and accomplished. One of the terms of a settlement would be I will not give any money to any other law school or discuss anything about the Alabama law school.”
From Hugh Culverhouse to Stuart Bell— Sat. May 25, 2019. 6:37 a.m.
Culverhouse has problems with Mark Brandon, the Dean of the Law school, and does not like the choices Brandon has picked for a constitutional law professor. Culverhouse wants someone who will “make academic waves” and are “nationally stature constitutional law figures.” He seems to be mad that the school has forced Brandon to choose a ‘lesser’ professor than what Hugh would have chosen and if they decided to hire one of these professors, Hugh doesn’t want his name to be associated with it. This email was sent to Stuart Bell, but spends a lot of time criticizing Brandon.
“Mark will always be a small town, insecure dean. The outside world frightens him.”–Hugh
“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.”—Hugh