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Hugh Culverhouse Jr., University of Alabama in tiff over his boycott call on new anti-abortion law

Hugh Culverhouse Jr. and his wife, Eliza, at the naming of the Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. School of Law at the University of Alabama last year after the couple pledged a $26.5 million donation. (University of Alabama photo)
Published May 30

Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr., son of the original owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, says there has been "a bit of mayhem'' since he called for a boycott of Alabama because of its near-total ban on abortions.

Citing an "ongoing dispute,'' the University of Alabama said this week that it might return $21.5 million that Culverhouse donated to its law school. But the Florida lawyer, whose parents attended the university, said he doesn't want the money back despite the state's passage of what he calls the "horrendous abortion bill.''

"This is the fifth law Alabama has done, it's just the most draconian,'' Culverhouse said in a phone interview Thursday. "If you compare it to Saudi Arabia's, Alabama's is more restrictive.''

Under the law signed this month by Gov. Kay Ivey, doctors who perform abortions could be charged with a felony punishable by 99 years in prison. The only exceptions are when a pregnant woman's life is in danger. The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood are challenging the measure in court.

"We've got to put pressure on to change the laws,'' Culverhouse said in urging a boycott of state institutions like the law school and major companies that do business in Alabama such as Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and even Starbucks. "I cannot stand by silently and allow my name to be associated with a state educational system that teaches students law that clearly conflicts with the United States Constitution and federal law.''

Culverhouse is the single-largest donor to the University of Alabama. The law school changed its name to the Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. School of Law last year after he pledged to donate $26.5 million over four years. He has paid $21.5 million including $10 million ahead of schedule.

In a statement Wednesday, the university said it might return the money because of demands Culverhouse had made of the law school, not because of his call for a boycott. It said Culverhouse already had asked for $10 million back.

"None of the issues between the law school and Mr. Culverhouse had anything to do with the passage of legislation in which the university had no role,'' the university said. "Donors may not dictate university administration.'''

Culverhouse said he asked for a temporary return of $10 million because he didn't agree with the law school's decision to reduce the number of students enrolled each year.

"The whole point of the money was scholarships and teachers,'' he said. "I learned later that they were not planning to make it bigger and they don't need teachers. I'm sitting there going, 'Well, why did you take my money?' "

Culverhouse said the university has since agreed to increase enrollments, and he plans to make good on his full $26.5 million pledge.

Other Culverhouse donations include $2.5 million for the women's golf program, in memory of his mother, Joy, an amateur golf champion; and $6.5 million to the business school.

"If they're giving money back, why not the business school?'' Culverhouse said. "They'd be much more affected by (a boycott).''

Culverhouse's father, Hugh Sr. was the first owner of the Buccaneers. He died in 1994 at 74; his widow died three years ago at 96, leaving a multi-million-dollar estate.

Her death led to a bitter, sometimes bizarre fight in which Hugh Jr. and sister Gay, claiming their mother had been exploited financially, refused to allow disposition of her remains without an autopsy on her brain and access to her medical records. Joy Culverhouse lay in a Temple Terrace funeral home for nearly a year until a judge denied the autopsy request. She was finally cremated in early 2017.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

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