University of Alabama renames law school, returns $21.5 million donation after donor calls for it to be boycotted over abortion law

They couldn’t wait to get cracking on it, either. Dude:

Out of curiosity, I googled the law school. The name has already been scrubbed from the website.

They have my admiration. Political principle is hard enough to stick to when there’s not an eight-figure payday on the table. Imagine how hard it is when there is. The number in the headline actually undersells U of A’s sacrifice here, in fact: The $21.5 million was part of a larger $26.5 million pledge that’ll now go unfulfilled. And it came from the school’s single largest donor, Hugh Culverhouse Jr., which means the university has likely lost a substantial future donor stream as well.

The tiff appears — I stress, appears — to stem from Culverhouse’s call last week for a boycott of the state and its institutions, including the law school that bore his name, over its new abortion law. “I don’t want anybody to go to that law school, especially women, until the state gets its act together,” he said on May 29, adding “When you say sweet home Alabama, you can kiss my ass. There isn’t anything sweet about it until this absolute abomination is done with.” The wrinkle is that at no point has the university itself claimed that the abortion law or his boycott call is the source of its dispute with him. They insist that it’s due to him meddling with its operations. “Donors may not dictate University administration,” said U of A in a statement also published on May 29. They’ve been vague on what Culverhouse did to meddle, but he admitted to the AP that he told administrators his donation should be used to admit more students and award more scholarships — although he says he thought that dispute had been resolved.

Either way, we’re in a strange situation this afternoon in which the university has made an exceedingly dramatic financial gesture to demonstrate that it doesn’t want Culverhouse’s patronage any longer while … refusing to say why, specifically. It’s Culverhouse, not U of A, who claims this is about abortion, abortion, and nothing but abortion. He whined in a statement about the school somehow trying to “silence” him by refunding his money:

“I expected this response from UA. I will not allow my family’s name to be associated with an educational system that advocates a state law which discriminates against women, disregards established Federal law and violates our Constitution. I want to make clear that I never demanded that $21.5 million be refunded and wonder if the University is attempting to silence my opinions by their quick response. I will not be silenced. Once again, I call on students to protest and reconsider their educational options in Alabama. I also appeal to out-of-state and international businesses to consider the consequences of conducting business in a state that discriminates against women and defies constitutional law. These boycotts and acts of resistance should remain in effect until the State of Alabama reverses the illegal anti-abortion statute.”

He was more colorful in an interview with the AP:

After the trustees’ vote, the younger Culverhouse said that he and father had donated to the university over the years in part to rid Alabama of a certain stereotype: “We are the land of the backward, we are hicks, we lack the sophistication to see two sides to an argument.”

“What have you done Alabama? You have effectively put a 12-gauge in your mouth and pulled the trigger,” Culverhouse said. “You have reinforced that horrible stereotype that my father and I have tried so hard to eliminate.”

Why won’t the school acknowledge that they’re punishing him for the boycott call, at least? Obviously they’re not opposed to taking money from someone who’s pro-choice. Culverhouse’s views can’t have been a secret when he made that $26.5 million pledge. The university was probably understandably peeved that he was giving them bad press by encouraging students to boycott despite the fact that they had nothing to do with the new abortion law’s passage, so they told him to hit the bricks. Culverhouse is eager to tie this dispute to abortion politics, I assume, because it makes him a sort of pro-choice martyr among his likeminded friends. But why is the school so reluctant to admit its motives?

Is it, as one expert told the AP, because it fears the dispute “could pressure more politically liberal donors to cut off support to the university”? Rejecting Culverhouse’s money over the boycott call might lead other pro-choice donors to withhold they money in a sort of sympathy strike. As painful as it was for U of A to part with $26.5 million, it could get worse if they’re viewed as hostile to abortion supporters. There may be some sort of legal issue too if the school is seen as picking sides in an abortion debate given that U of A is a state actor and operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, although I’ll leave it to legal eagles to hash that out, if so. Presumably it’s not actionable discrimination for a state institution to decline to accept a gift from you because of your political viewpoint. Imagine that — a First Amendment right to make the state take your money.