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Monday, September 26, 2022

UF, embattled former Honors Program director at odds over nature of termination

Honors students feel left in the dark

Mark Law was terminated from his position as UF Honors director Monday.
Mark Law was terminated from his position as UF Honors director Monday.

Two weeks have passed since Mark Law announced his termination as UF Honors Program director. Although the provost has taken responsibility for the firing, students and faculty still have questions as to why.

Law and UF administration are publicly at odds about the nature of his termination. Honors students say they were confused about the nature of Law’s firing, and some faculty who already distrusted the administration rallied to Law’s cause.

The former director maintains his termination was without forewarning and the decision to relieve him was made by the UF Board of Trustees. Meanwhile, UF Provost Joe Glover claims sole responsibility for the termination, which he said was because of Law’s performance.

UF engineering professor Mark Law sent an email to the Honors Program community Aug. 15 announcing he was fired. His termination came as a shock, he wrote, adding that he hadn’t had a negative performance evaluation and alleged he was fired by the UF Board of Trustees.

Law didn’t only lose his prestigious title — his salary more than halved. Law made another $244,000 a year on top of his salary as a professor, according to a Fall 2021 Board of Governors UF salary report. 

In a statement the same day as Law’s announcement, UF confirmed Law had been let go from his position and would be replaced in the interim by his deputy, professor Melissa Johnson.

In contrast to Law’s statement, UF Provost Joe Glover released a statement taking sole responsibility for Law’s termination Aug. 16. He said the termination was due to Law’s inadequate vision for the program — an opinion he acknowledges administration also held.

“The [University of Florida Board of Trustees] lost confidence in Dr. Mark Law’s leadership as director of UF’s Honors Program, but the decision to remove him from that position was mine and I stand by it,” Glover said. “We look forward to moving the program in a new direction and taking it to the next level befitting a top-five public university.”

Four days later, Glover sent an email to the students and families of the Honors College further denying the claim that Law was fired by the Board of Trustees. Glover was unavailable for further comment to The Alligator as of Sunday.

“I feel strongly compelled, therefore, to set the record straight,” Glover wrote in the email. “The Board of Trustees did not fire Dr. Mark Law.” 

It wasn’t Glover who made the ultimate decision to fire him, and his termination wouldn’t have taken place without the loss of confidence by the Board of Trustees, Law said Sunday in an interview with The Alligator. In both of Glover’s public statements, the provost mentioned the opinion of the board, Law said.

Law said he wasn’t given any indication as to what administration wanted from the program or what promises members felt he wasn’t delivering on.

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At the State of the University Address Friday, UF Board of Trustees Chair Morteza “Mori” Hosseini said Law was released from his position because the board’s ambitions for the program were greater than what they saw from Law’s vision.

“Unfortunately, we found his plans lackluster across the board — from admissions and recruitment to academic and student life programming,” Hosseini said. “The plans were not up to the standards we had hoped to see — and what students deserve.”

UF Faculty Senate Chair Amanda Phalin, who sits on the Board of Trustees, released a statement on Twitter Aug. 20 confirming Glover’s claim.

“I was part of the discussion during the Board of Trustees meeting in June, and I can confirm that the board lost confidence in Dr. Mark Law,” Phalin wrote. “The responsibility for the decision to remove him from the position of Honors director belongs to the provost.”

Phalin reiterated to The Alligator Sunday she didn’t witness anything not based purely on performance go into the decision to relieve Law of his position. 

She did acknowledge a lack of a clear answer from UF administration on the nature of his termination, which could add further mistrust between administration and a faculty with already waning morale.

Phalin pointed out the “information vacuum” under these conditions could lead to a range of speculation by the public. 

“I encouraged the administration to communicate with the public very quickly about the situation,” Phalin said. “It was their position that they just don't talk publicly about personnel matters, and so they didn't want to respond.”

Speculation on political motives for Law’s firing have gained popularity on forums like Reddit. Multiple social media users have pointed to his alleged stances on mandating masks and gender-neutral bathrooms as possible reasons behind the termination.

Law’s firing came as a shock to many in the Honors community, including 20-year-old UF communication sciences and disorders honors junior Kylie Fernandez. Fernandez felt the university didn’t provide a good reason for their leadership shake-up, she said.

“He's a really cool guy,” Fernandez said. “He loved what he did, he loved all the students and I never heard a bad thing about him from anyone.”

William Eberhardt, a 22-year-old political science senior and vice president of the Honors Ensemble, said he felt Law’s departure came out of nowhere.

“I'm sure everyone feels that there was no indication to any of us that anything was wrong,” Eberhardt said. “I cannot think of a single person who had anything negative to say about Dr. Law.”

Eberhardt has no confidence in the administration, citing earlier UF controversies and the lack of a “concrete reason” for Law’s termination.

Law will remain a tenured professor at UF in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“I continue to stand by my leadership of the Honors Program,” Law said. “I wish Dr. Johnson and the Honors team the best and will offer any support in the transition period that is asked of me. We all at UF have a goal of student success.”

Mickenzie Hannon contributed to this report.

Contact Christian Casale at ccasale@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter at @vanityhack.


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Christian Casale

Christian is a fourth-year history major. In the past, he’s served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Valencia Voice. He now covers the University Administration for the Alligator. In his free time he likes reading and nodding along to Bruce Springsteen songs.


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