As more details surface as to why the longtime director of UCF's Alumni Association was dismissed, graduates remain firm in their decisions to stop contributing to the university.
According to emails obtained by the Central Florida Future, UCF Foundation President Robert Holmes dismissed Alumni Association Executive Director Tom Messina after he spoke out in a meeting in December. Following the decision, which appears to have been the end to a tense relationship, a mass email was sent out to alumni with little explanation. It was merely described as a personnel matter.
UCF alumnus and former president of the Golden Knights Club Mack McLaughlin told the Future Messina wasn't even given a reason at the time; he was simply told his contract would not been renewed.
Messina declined to comment. Holmes did not return phone calls in time for publication.
Following a Dec. 11 meeting, from which Holmes was absent, several members of the UCF Foundation had misgivings about comments Messina made at the meeting. In an email, Holmes wrote that staff had described his behavior as unprofessional, inappropriate and insubordinate. One person told Holmes, "If that happened in my previous organization, that person would have been fired."
"Your unprofessional and inappropriate comments to the division-wide team last week once again found you crossing the line in an insubordinate way," Holmes wrote in a another email. "I can no longer count on you to lead the alumni relations staff and the Alumni Association in a professional manner." In a separate email, Holmes claimed Messina had a track record for making critical comments about decisions made by the Foundation.
"I own a company and I expect my employees to come tell me that something is wrong, even if it's me that's wrong," said McLaughlin, who emphasized the importance of openness and discussion. "If what I read in the paper is as bad as it got, that doesn't seem to be a firing offense."
Prior to learning of these emails, McLaughlin said Messina "would love to come back to UCF," and would accept the job if given another chance.
"I've heard that there is absolutely no chance Tom will get his job back," McLaughlin said after learning why Messina was dismissed. " ... To be fired for being insubordinate (critical) of Holmes is terrible, as it will only lead to more genuflecting by the staff and no real process for the university.
"Seems you can't speak your mind at UCF."
Soon after Messina was removed from his post, a Facebook group and hashtag #BringMessinaBack emerged. To date, the group has garnered more than 900 members. James Lineberger, a UCF alumnus, created the group in hopes of raising awareness of how the decision was made, bringing accountability to that process and to support his longtime friend.
"It'll have a chilling effect on the motivation of some alumni to contribute to the university," he said of the decision. "I certainly wouldn't contribute now."
McLaughlin echoed Lineberger's reservations.
"A lot of people are saying that they're not going to make any donations. I don't know what the impact of that will be," said the 1981 graduate of Winter Garden. With Messina at the helm, McLaughlin said he didn't think twice about contributing.
Before details surfaced chronicling the tense relationship between Messina and Holmes, McLaughlin said he had recommended Messina to replace Holmes, who announced he would retire from his position as UCF Foundation president after a successor could be found. This announcement came soon after Messina was dismissed.
"I still agree that Tom would be a great leader in that position," he said. However, Messina, he believes, is ready to move on.
Regarding the cryptic email sent to alumni in December, Lineberger, who has known Messina since college — as a fraternity brother, roommate and groomsman in his wedding — said although the matter was an internal one, he hoped there would have been better accountability.
Even before sending out the announcement to remove Messina, Holmes wrote in an email that he remained undeterred in his decision despite the possibility of backlash. The association, he wrote, deserves a positive role model.
Both McLaughlin and Lineberger agreed that Messina's biggest accomplishment while in his post, which he began in December 1992, was the construction of the Fairwinds Alumni Center in 2005.
McLaughlin was the last president of the Golden Knights Club, the fundraising arm for UCF Athletics, before its board of directors was disbanded. He says the "revolving door" of executive leadership is a big problem at UCF.
Messina's position has sat vacant for a few months now, and the university plans to conduct interviews in late April.
Caroline Glenn is the News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @bycarolineglenn or email her at CarolineGCentralFloridaFuture.com.