State Politics

Florida House candidate claims to have college degree. University says that’s not ‘accurate’

Melissa Howard, a Republican candidate for the Florida House of Representatives District 73, which includes Manatee County.
Melissa Howard, a Republican candidate for the Florida House of Representatives District 73, which includes Manatee County. Provided photo

After Florida House candidate Melissa Howard said she made efforts to prove a report that accused her of not having a college degree was false, the university she attended released a statement calling the authenticity of the degree she claimed to have into question.

A controversy about Howard’s background erupted after FLA News Online reported that Howard, a candidate in the Aug. 28 Republican primary for the District 73 seat, did not hold the degree from Miami University in Ohio that the Lakewood Ranch businesswoman claimed to have earned.

District 73 covers parts of Manatee and Sarasota counties. Also running in the Republican primary is Sarasota attorney Tommy Gregory.

FLA News Online, which calls itself “the conservative choice for Florida news & politics,” previously published a report claiming Howard could not produce proof of her degree. She reportedly offered to send the site pictures from a yearbook and one of her at graduation but said at the time, her diploma was in a storage unit in Ohio, according to FLA News Online. Citing the National Student Clearinghouse, the report went on to say records from the non-profit organization, which verifies college degrees, showed Howard did not earn a diploma from Miami University.

FLA News Online reported Miami University called the clearinghouse it’s “authorized agent for providing degree verification for graduates.”

When FLA News Online asked Howard about the discrepancy, she told them “it was a lie. “

Howard previously told the Bradenton Herald she had graduated from Miami University and obtained a marketing degree.

FLA News Online later rescinded their story and reported Howard posted a picture of a diploma and parts of a transcript to social media. Sunday, a search for the HowardforHouse73 Facebook page the photo was reportedly posted to displayed an error message, saying the page was not available. Howard’s Twitter page showed her 39 tweets were protected or private.

On the “About” page of Howard’s campaign website, a section of text also notes that she was the first of her family to attend college, and states that “upon graduation, she worked for large (Marriott and Microsoft) and small companies before launching her own marketing business that today serves clients throughout the world.”

In an email statement from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, university counsel said they are “aware of the Florida House race in Sarasota, the information and photos that were posted on the HowardforHouse73 Facebook page and the stories that have been published in flanewsonline.”

Howard, then Melissa Fox, attended the university from 1990 to 1994 but does not have a degree, according to the statement.

FLA News Online published another report after receiving a statement from Miami University.

In the statement, which was provided to the Bradenton Herald, university counsel noted the diploma in the photo did not appear to be “accurate.”

“The picture of the diploma shows that Melissa Marie Fox received a Bachelor of Science in marketing degree from Miami University on December 20, 1996. We have no such record of a degree,” the statement said. “Miami University’s degree for marketing majors then, as it is now, was a Bachelor of Science in business.”

While enrolled at Miami University, her major was retailing. The degree for that program of study was a Bachelor of Science in family and consumer sciences, according to the university.

In addition, the diploma pictured with Howard was signed by James C. Garland, president, and Robert C. Johnson, dean. But, according to the statement, Miami University diplomas have the signature of the dean of the academic division of the degree earned. In 1996, Robert C. Johnson was dean of the Graduate School. The statement noted James C. Garland was president of Miami University in 1996.

Howard, however was also not enrolled at Miami as a student in the fall of 1996, according to the statement.

The school does allow students to “walk” at graduation even if all degree requirements have not been met.

Howard told the Bradenton Herald in an email Thursday that she was flying to Ohio the next day to pick up her transcripts. She attached screenshots of what appeared to be a flight itinerary and a transcript order form. She also sent screenshots of photos that show her in a yearbook, and one of her standing in a cap and gown.

Howard did not immediately reply to requests from the Bradenton Herald for comment Sunday.

Howard’s campaign consultant, Anthony Pedicini, told the Sun-Sentinel Howard’s husband had suffered a “cardiac event,” and she is “focused on him right now,” and not on “fake news.”