A secret process for picking college presidents in FL? Or does the public want transparency

Manny Diaz, Jr.
Miami-Dade Republican Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr., the Senate's Education Committee chairman, talks on the Senate floor April 23 about arming classroom teachers with guns. Screenshot: Florida Channel

The long and troubling saga over the selection of a new president at Miami Dade College continues to get worse, with critics now worried that the process could be kept secret.

A key lawmaker doesn’t think that’s the case, but what about future college president searches?

The issue will inevitably come up as the presidential search continues.

A special board meeting is scheduled Tuesday morning on the presidential search process, with United Faculty of Miami Dade College calling on scholars, students, faculty and community members to maintain a “transparent selection process” that will be used to choose the most qualified candidate, according to a news release.

Of concern is that legislation has now been filed in Tallahassee to exempt laws to keep such presidential searches secret.

Republican State Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr., represents part of Miami-Dade County and is Senate Education Committee chairman.

Diaz filed a bill last week (HB 774) related to Florida’s longstanding public records and open meetings laws.

The legislation would provide exemptions to those laws related to public records and/or public meetings.

The bill states: “The Legislature finds that it is a public necessity that any personal identifying information of an applicant for president of a state university or Florida College System institution be made confidential and exempt” from state laws and the state constitution.

The exemptions in the legislation include:

Information that would identify applicants for president at state universities and Florida colleges (often called community colleges);

Any “personal identifying information” of an applicant for a president;

Any meeting held for the purpose of vetting candidates;

Any meeting or interview held after at least three candidates have been chosen and the meeting involves a final selection of the president.

The names of three (or more) candidates must be released no later than 21 days before final action occurs on the presidency.

If the Legislature approves the bill and the governor signs off on it, the “act shall take effect upon becoming a law.”

At issue is whether that legislation, if it becomes law, would coincide with when the Miami Dade president is chosen.

Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago believes that the powerful senator wants to conduct  the search in the dark.

“In essence, Diaz wants to close the search, hindering the ability of journalists, faculty members, students and other interested parties from holding those making the decisions accountable,” Santiago wrote.

She added, “His bill is a deplorable attempt to meddle in the MDC presidential selection, and in the process, strip away the public’s right to information about an institution vital to Miami-Dade County.”

Diaz responded in a twitter feed, saying:

“Once again, the media is fabricating a disingenuous narrative.”

He wrote that his proposed bill “will not affect” the Miami Dade College presidential search.

But if approved, it would “safeguard candidates, who for years, have been dwindling in numbers, as a result of the public scrutiny they experience when applying for open jobs.”

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.