Sick, toxic, dysfunctional; WUCF staff shake-up more than meets the eye
Phil Hoffman was a nightmare to work for, say WUCF employees. Image via WUCF/Facebook.

phil hoffman WUCF copy
'The last 5 years have been hell with Phil. I’ve never witnessed so much abuse, mismanagement.'

To the outside world, Phil Hoffman declared on social media he was leaving his $194,662-a year job as executive director of WUCF because of family responsibilities and the pandemic.

But public documents show Hoffman resigned under pressure as he faced a university investigation and a litany of complaints from employees at Orlando’s PBS affiliate.

“The last five years have been hell with Phil. I’ve never witnessed so much abuse, mismanagement,” said director of WUCF 89.9 FM Kayonne Riley’s statement after she spoke to a Title IX investigator in July, according to documents released by the University of Central Florida. “If this isn’t handled, I will retire; I can’t take it anymore. I love UCF, but I can’t continue working for him. It has become a sick, toxic and dysfunctional place.”

Employees described Hoffman as a bully who was sexist and ageist with a quick, unpredictable temper, according to their statements, memos and other documents released by the university.

“The preliminary information was shared with leadership over WUCF who decided to discuss the concerns directly with PH, which resulted in his resignation,” one document said.

When reached for comment Monday, Hoffman denied the allegations and said he hadn’t been aware of the employees’ comments. He said he felt blindsided to learn about them from a reporter’s public records request instead of the university directly.

“I’m shocked and disappointed because some of these comments are just blatantly untrue while others are missing important details and context, and they’re all absolutely contrary to my character and my leadership,” Hoffman said in a statement. “Anytime culture came up, we talked about what we wanted to do to improve it. I’m disappointed and distraught that anyone ever says that they felt this way.”

Some employees complained Hoffman demoted older employees. He made demeaning complaints, such as saying they should replace their 60-something-year-old front desk receptionist with someone younger and better looking, according to the UCF statements and memos from employees.

WUCF employees said they were scared to report Hoffman to the university because of fear of retaliation. Some employees resigned rather than work with Hoffman any longer. Others were fired.

One employee, Jonathon Adler, called Hoffman “abusive” in a statement given in July to UCF’s Title IX investigator.

“It’s a lot of bipolar behavior and no trust,” Adler’s statement said. “When he does send an email, he uses all caps to say “WRONG” and really point out a person’s problem. When speaking, he uses this undermining tone, such as when he said, ‘I make priorities … your team doesn’t matter … my success is why we’re here’ when he was writing a press release about himself.”

Jennifer Cook said working with Hoffman was like being in an abusive relationship where there were moments she got along with him and other times, he screamed at her, like when he “went ballistic” after she used a highlighter that was the wrong one for PBS’ color scheme.

“For the last two or three years, the dynamic is more toxic, abusive and personal. He has said things to me that have crossed the line. Looking back, I feel I should’ve reached out for help sooner. I’m finally realizing that it’s happening to others and not just me,” Cook wrote in her July statement to a Title IX investigator.

She remembered Hoffman encouraged colleagues to talk to one female staffer who struggled with her weight about a work-related matter. “Go see her,” Hoffman told them, adding. “You can’t miss her.”

Hoffman said Monday the comment wasn’t meant to insult the employee. “She literally was the only one in that hallway.”

The university received complaints about Hoffman’s behavior and leadership and began speaking with employees about what it was like working at WUCF. By August, Hoffman announced he resigned.

Hoffman did not receive a buyout, but as standard UCF practice, he did receive his accrued leave payout of 480 hours’ worth, totaling $44,750, UCF spokesman Mark Schlueb said.

“I left UCF because of a larger dysfunctional culture and a desire that I really needed to get back home to see my family after the pandemic,” Hoffman said Monday in his statement. “I hadn’t seen folks for months. I continue to wish the station and the team members the very best. They are incredible, and they’re a talented group of professionals. While I’m extraordinarily sad today, I will always be proud of what we did together.”

With Hoffman gone, the university is still probing to understand more about the troubled department so it can make changes for the future.

UCF is spending $11,250 to hire an outside company to do a cultural and climate survey.

“We are working to build an inclusive culture at WUCF that encourages and empowers employees. Recently, we started working with a third party to gauge employees’ sentiments and collect their feedback to build a plan for moving forward,” Schlueb said in a statement Monday.

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


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