Tongue on cheek, UF battles mysterious theft of ‘Top 5’ banner on campus

The University of Florida appears to be raising its hands to gag the theft after a “Top 5” banner was hung on campus for the second year in a row in honor of a mysterious theft in honor of its nationally ranked among public universities.

A new TikTok released by the university from its official account this week mocked the banner theft and reminded students that they could buy a $150 replica at the university bookstore. In the video, marked with a public service announcement, a university officer and a student hold a large banner in a mock tug-of-war and stare at the ominous soundtrack.

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University of Florida

Screenshot of a TikTok video made by the University of Florida on September 22, 2022, teasing the mysterious theft of a “Top 5” banner hanging on campus in honor of its national ranking among public universities. The school said 14 of the 19 banners were stolen.

“I’m taking it,” she said.

“Don’t do it,” Sergeant Delfino Moncivais responded.

“I’m doing it,” she said.

“Please don’t,” he said.

“I need it.”

“Go to the bookstore and get a copy,” Moncivas said.

“Okay, thanks,” the student said as the two walked towards the bookstore.

TikTok follows thieves in stealing top 5 banner ads for the second year. So far, at least 14 of the 19 banners have disappeared on campus in the days that U.S. News & World Report ranked UF at No. 5 among public universities earlier this month.

Last year, the school said 40 of the 75 banners were reported within a month, costing about $3,000. The thieves also stole the banners in previous years, as UF had made the magazine’s top 10 list.

The thefts have always been a cat-and-mouse game between colleges and students: After schools installed locking devices at the top and bottom to protect each banner, students began cutting them with scissors or ripping them above and below the locks.

Michelle Castano, a journalism student from Weston, Florida, noticed a banner near the student union had been ripped off.

“Now, whenever we rank, it seems to have become a tradition,” she said. “I don’t think it was malicious, it was more of a college prank. I think they did it as an exclusive souvenir that no one else had.”

Last year, the campus newspaper The Independent Crocodile quoted a witness who said he saw a classmate climb a light pole on Stadium Road around 2 a.m. and cut down a banner while two others stood guard.

Spokesman Steve Orlando said the university understands students are enthusiastic but is concerned for their safety.

“It’s dangerous to climb up and tear it down,” Orlando said. “It’s also not cheap to replace.” He added: “That’s what we might have to look forward to.”

The university planned to hang more banners, then abandoned those plans because of the recent thunderstorms — and they were also likely to be stolen. Orlando acknowledged that tracking down thieves and pursuing criminal charges is not a priority for the university.

One of the top facilities executives, Mark Helms, also admitted that the locks did not deter theft.

“It’s not going to work if the students are constantly holding on to the ladder and cutting with scissors,” Helms said. “I get it, okay. I was young and understood why someone would do that.”

The university last year estimated the cost of the stolen banners at $73 each. It’s unclear why the school is selling them in bookstores this year for $150.

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service at the University of Florida School of Journalism and Communication. Journalists can be reached at etritto@ufl.edu. You can donate to support our students here.

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