Fake news, hypertransparency, and why press freedom is “like oxygen”

October 2, 2017
Alisson Clark
College of Journalism and Communication

freedom of information director frank lomonte

Frank LoMonte wants to transform our relationship with government, but first he has to unpack.

The new director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications recently came to Gainesville from Washington, D.C., where he led the Student Press Law Center. After nine years of working on behalf of student journalists, he’s now focused on access to information for anyone in the information business.

You don’t have to be a journalist or a lawyer to benefit from freedom of information and open government, he says. 

“The polluted water scandal in Flint, Michigan, came to light directly because of the accessibility of public records. We should be at a moment in history where people value and appreciate access to information like never before, but I’m not sure people make that connection. They like knowing that their water is safe to drink, but they don’t always connect that back to transparency laws.”

We asked LoMonte for his take on the future of press freedom and open government — and how the Brechner Center can help.

If you could snap your fingers and accomplish something right away, what would it be?

We need a global mentality adjustment among the people serving in government toward maximum disclosure and not the least the law will allow. That’s the single greatest thing I’d like Brechner to be a catalyst toward accomplishing. If we could change the mindset so that people in government appreciate that disclosure is not an impediment to doing their job but is a foundational part of their daily work, then we will have transformed the way citizens interact with their government.

Right now, our laws promote a mindset that it is the job of government to minimize disclosure. There’s very little that absolutely, positively has to be withheld. social security numbers, bank account numbers, students’ academic records — all those things have to be withheld. But then there’s a vast universe of things that could be withheld or could be disclosed, and the default should always be toward disclosure. But I think the way our laws are written right now encourages the opposite. It encourages people to try to withhold the maximum that they can.

What are your overarching goals for the Brechner Center?

To me, the goal is to figure out what will make open government useful and relevant in people’s lives. Open government is always recognized as a good thing in the abstract, but I think people don’t know that much about what’s available to them and how to enforce their rights. That’s part of our public education job, to help people appreciate that well-enforced public-records laws are truly a civic safety matter.

Depending on how you look at it, the current political climate could be viewed as the best time or the worst time to do what you do.  How do you see it?

I think it’s the best time, because when people are skeptical of powerful institutions, then they want more accountability and more transparency.  I think it’s a matter of harnessing that skepticism into activism for greater transparency and disclosure.

I see a lot of roads converging in the direction of what I call hypertransparency. I see roads converging there because of the alarm over fake news. What is the antidote to fake news? The answer is pushing verifiable truthful information out to the public so no one has to take anyone else’s word for anything. It is easy for me to start a rumor that the Legislature is about to put people in internment camps by posting a fake post to Facebook. The antidote is to put all legislative meetings on the web, on camera, so that people can say, ‘I watched that meeting with my own two eyes and here’s the link to it, and I can prove to you that that is false.’ If I can push out a link to the video meeting, you don’t have to take my word for it anymore.

The other factor that I see converging is the erosion of full-time news media jobs. If there are going to be fewer salaried professional journalists watching the county commission or watching the state legislature, what is the answer? The answer is to put all of their records and all of their meetings up on the web so that the public can find them without that trained learned journalist to lead them to that information.

How does awareness of press freedom among journalism students compare to the past?

I think the current generation of young people is the best batch of cookies we have ever baked. These are the smartest, kindest and most tolerant people America has ever produced. I think that awareness of press freedom is about where it’s always been: The people who practice journalism every day are very acutely aware of it and the general public is not.  The general public is certainly aware that we have a First Amendment that protects freedom of the press. I don’t think people make the connection between that and the information they receive in their daily lives. I don’t think that people are walking around aware of that, just like they’re not walking around aware that the Fourth Amendment protects them against the government searching them. It’s like oxygen: You don’t notice it until you really, really, really need it.

You’ve been charged with expanding the focus of the Brechner Center — what does that look like?

I see Brechner right at the intersection where journalism and civics come together. We can be a bridge between those two communities. A lot of the work of open government has been seen as journalism work. I want to rebrand that. We all own the responsibility for open government, and we all benefit from it.

Why did you want to come to UF?

The Brechner Center is the only center devoted to improving the public’s access to information in a journalism school setting rather than a law school setting. Doing open government work inside a journalism school gives you access to vast storytelling resources. That was a big attraction. I am really excited about harnessing the tools of journalism to tell a better story about open government. We can make documentary films about open government. We can make virtual reality pieces about open government.

There are also so many really strong complementary pieces here at UF. You’ve got a first-rate law school with a really forward-thinking dean who’s doing great things. You’ve got the Graham Center which is another unique resource, a think-tank about civic education that’s right here a block away from us. All those pieces can come together and create really powerful tools for change.

Society & Culture

Is everything you learned about Columbus wrong?

October 3, 2017
Alisson Clark
Florida Museum of Natural History, archaeology

Is everything you learned about Columbus wrong?

Society & Culture

Florida consumer sentiment continues downward in September

October 3, 2017
Colleen Porter

Consumer sentiment among Floridians dropped six-tenths of a point in September to 95.5 from a revised figure of 96.1 in August. Similarly, the University of Michigan’s nationwide consumer sentiment index decreased slightly in September.

Of the five components that make up the index, three decreased and two increased.

Perceptions of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago decreased six-tenths of a point, from 87.8 to 87.2. On the other hand, opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket household item such as an appliance increased six-tenths of a point, from 102.6 to 103.2.

“The behavior of these two components of the index indicate that perceptions of present economic conditions among Floridians remain unchanged from last month,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Expectations of personal finances a year from now showed the biggest drop this month, down 4.4 points from 104.8 to 100.4. Anticipated U.S. economic conditions over the next year decreased 2.6 points, from 95.8 to 93.2. Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years showed the greatest increase, rising 3.7 points from 89.6 to 93.3. These three components together represent expectations about future economic conditions, which decreased in September overall, despite the long-run positive expectations held by the population.

“Most of the pessimism in September stems from negative expectations regarding the personal financial situation of Floridians in the short-run. These expectations reflect in part the current and expected effects of the hurricane season on the state,” Sandoval said.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 and flooded parts of Houston and southeastern Texas, forcing the closure of several oil refineries and increasing gas prices in the U.S. In Florida, the average price for a gallon of gasoline went up by 36 cents, according to AAA.

Just over three weeks later, Hurricane Irma battered Florida and caused a decline in overall economic activities and economic growth in the state, triggering business closures and job losses. For the week ending Sep. 16, Florida had the nation’s second-largest increase in initial claims for unemployment insurance.

“Nonetheless, as the state continues to recover, these trends will likely reverse as rebuilding efforts take place. Hurricane Irma should not erase the positive labor market conditions that have prevailed in the state for the past few years,” Sandoval said.

The Florida unemployment rate declined one-tenth of a percentage point in August to 4.0 percent. Job gains were led by the professional and business services industry, followed by trade, transportation and utilities, and the education and health services sector. The latest unemployment report does not account for job losses caused by recent storms, but it confirms the positive trends observed in previous years.

In their last meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee observed that, “Despite the devastation caused by the Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the storms are unlikely to materially alter the course of the national economy over the medium term.”

Sandoval said, “Overall, consumer sentiment in Florida continues to be positive. However, next month’s reading will be very valuable in assessing the impacts of the storms on consumer sentiment as the holiday shopping season gets closer.”

Hurricane Irma also affected this month’s survey data collection. Typically interviews are spread out over each day of the month, but due to state-mandated university closures prior to landfall, calls were not made for six days from Sep. 8-13. There was a slight shift in the number of responses by region. On average in 2017, the southeast region of the state contributed 30 percent of survey responses, but only 24 percent for September. Other demographics did not shift by more than one or two percentage points.

Conducted Sep. 1-28, the UF study reflects the responses of 470 individuals who were reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross section of Florida.

The index used by UF researchers is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2, the highest is 150.

Details of this month’s survey can be found at http://www.bebr.ufl.edu/csi-data.

Society & Culture

The UF Hurricane Team Headed South to Meet Irma Head On

October 3, 2017
UF News

As Hurricane Irma prepared to make landfall in Southwest Florida, a team of researchers from the University of Florida’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, led by professor Dr. Forrest Masters, sped south to Naples to meet Irma head on.

The team deployed 3-ton instrumented towers at four different sites while the storm was making landfall. The purpose of this research is to measure 3D wind velocity at ground level with the goal of using the data gathered to improve our understanding of the behavior of winds that damage structures.

Masters is a professor in the Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment and currently serves as associate dean for research and facilities in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. 


Recently, he secured a multi-million dollar cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation’s Natural Hazard Engineering Research Infrastructure program to create one of seven national experimental facilities to study infrastructure performance in natural hazards. In short, Masters and his team are figuring out how storms impact cities and towns along our coasts…and they do this with the help of a new, advanced wind tunnel called the Terraformer. The Terraformer recreates the effects of the terrain on the wind field to study how buildings are loaded and ultimately will perform under wind action. According to Masters, all of this research is with an ultimate goal of making communities more resilient to extreme wind events.

While out in Irma’s wind, Masters was interviewed live on The Weather Channel about the impact of his research being done at UF. In addition to this, his research has appeared on CNN, Discovery Channel, National Geographic and PBS, among others.

To learn more about the Terraformer, click here.

To view more photos, click here.

Global Impact

Governments, car companies must resolve their competing goals for self-driving cars

October 3, 2017
Lily Elefteriadou

The director of UF’s Transportation Institute observes that if all the elements in the transportation system are going to talk to each other efficiently, the people at the companies and government agencies that make those items need to talk to each other, too.

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When will cars be able to talk to their surroundings? posteriori/Shutterstock.com

Lily Elefteriadou, University of Florida

What self-driving cars want, and what people want from them, varies widely. And often these desires are at odds with each other. For instance, carmakers – and the designers of the software that will run autonomous vehicles – know that it’s safest if cars stay far away from each other. But traffic engineers know that if every car operated to ensure lots of surrounding space, local roads and highways alike would be clogged for miles, and nobody would get anywhere.

Another inherent conflict involves how cars handle crises. No consumer wants to buy a self-driving car that’s programmed, even in the most remote of circumstances, to kill its driver instead of someone else (even if it would save a class of kindergarteners or a group of Nobel Prize winners). However, if every car is programmed always to save its occupants at any cost, pedestrians and cyclists are at risk.

As federal regulations for self-driving cars advance in congressional votes and the U.S. Department of Transportation issues guidelines, an important part of real progress will be how everyone involved approaches those inherent conflicts. Research at the University of Florida Transportation Institute, where I serve as the director, shows that the key to resolving these competitions of goals is communication among all the elements of the transportation network – cars, pedestrians, bicycles, guardrails, traffic lights, stop signs, roadways themselves and everything else. And if they’re all going to talk to each other, the people who make all those things need to talk to each other too.

Our institute is providing opportunities to do that. Our efforts include working with the Florida Department of Transportation and the City of Gainesville to set up an autonomous shuttle between the UF campus and downtown Gainesville and partnering with industry to create a testing area for autonomous cars and other advanced transportation technologies on campus roads and surrounding highways. But with so little coordination in today’s transportation world, there’s a long way to go.

Problems large and small

The road system in the U.S. has serious problems. Americans spend more than 40 hours per year stuck in traffic; more than 30,000 people die each year in crashes on U.S. roads, making cars one of the leading causes of death for Americans under the age of 64. These are serious problems, and many hope that autonomous cars can help solve them.

Nationwide statistics can mask smaller issues, though. The country’s transportation system is full of examples where coordination and collaboration would be extremely helpful., and even where the individual components may work but the system overall isn’t as streamlined as it could be.

Many communities have major roads where drivers have to stop unnecessarily because traffic lights aren’t coordinated among the different towns drivers pass through. And because different government agencies operate highways and local roads, when emergencies happen, drivers aren’t always rerouted smoothly or efficiently.

The city of Atlanta is one of many communities – including Gainesville, Florida – exploring the technology and effects of self-driving cars. AP Photo/Johnny Clark

Making a place for testing

With the Florida Department of Transportation and the city of Gainesville, our institute is building what we’re calling I-STREET, a testing infrastructure for autonomous vehicles and related technologies. As new components such as sensors and other monitoring equipment are installed on roads and highways in and around the university’s campus, researchers will be able to evaluate a range of advanced technologies. For instance, we’ll use cars that can talk to the other elements of the system, including each other, and can drive themselves on roads equipped with sensors to monitor traffic conditions.

In preliminary simulations, we have found real savings in travel time with self-driving vehicles that can communicate with their surroundings and adjust their paths on the go. For example, when self-driving cars and traffic lights can talk to each other, they can adjust cars’ speeds and the timing of red and green lights to help every car move more smoothly. Depending on the level of traffic and the number of self-driving cars mixed into human-driven traffic, travel times can drop by 16 to 36 percent, which may save nearly a minute of delay per car.

On highways, a major bottleneck happens around on-ramps, where entering vehicles may have trouble finding openings in fast-moving traffic. When frustrated drivers force their way onto the road, nearby cars must brake abruptly and may even crash. I helped develop an algorithm that uses information from self-driving vehicles to plan optimal paths for them. It can tell the cars already on the highway to move to the leftmost lane, making room for entering vehicles. Our simulations show that everyone’s collective travel time can be reduced by as much as 35 percent for the area around the on-ramp, or about 40 seconds per vehicle when traffic is heavy.

The ConversationThis type of intercar communication, coupled with the involvement of road sensors on the highway and in the on-ramp, can be built only if governments, contractors and international car manufacturers work together. That can ensure not only that individual vehicles are safe but also that the entire traffic system functions efficiently.

Lily Elefteriadou, Professor of Civil Engineering; Director of University of Florida Transportation Institute, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

Nobel Prize in physics awarded for discovery of gravitational waves

October 4, 2017
UF News


Science & Wellness

How Columbus, of all people, became a national symbol

October 9, 2017
William Francis Keegan

A UF anthropologist tells the story of how Columbus came close to falling into historical obscurity until American hubris intervened.

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Agricultural Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Illinois, circa 1893. University of Maryland Digital Collections

William Francis Keegan, University of Florida

Christopher Columbus was a narcissist.

He believed he was personally chosen by God for a mission that no one else could achieve. After 1493, he signed his name “xpo ferens” – “the Christbearer.” His stated goal was to accumulate enough wealth to recapture Jerusalem. His arrogance led to his downfall, that of millions of Native Americans – and eventually fostered his resurrection as the most enduring icon of the Americas.

Columbus in chains

In 1496, Columbus was the governor of a colony based at Santo Domingo, in what is now the modern Dominican Republic – a job he hated. He could not convince the other “colonists,” especially those with noble titles, to follow his leadership.

They were not colonists in the traditional sense of the word. They had gone to the Indies to get rich quick. Because Columbus was unable to temper their lust, the Crown viewed him as an incompetent administrator. The colony was largely a social and economic failure. The wealth that Columbus promised the Spanish monarchs failed to materialize, and he made continuous requests for additional financial support, which the monarchs reluctantly provided.

Inspiracion de Cristobal Colon by Jose Maria Obregon. Museo Nacional de Arte, CC BY-SA

By 1500, conditions in Hispaniola were so dire that the Crown sent Francisco de Bobadilla to investigate. Bobadilla’s first sight, at the mouth of the Ozama River, was four Spanish “mutineers” hanging from gallows. Under authority from the king, Bobadilla arrested Columbus and his brothers for malfeasance and sent them to Spain in chains. Columbus waited seven months for an audience at the court. He refused to have his chains removed until the meeting, and even asked in his will to be buried with the chains.

Although the Spanish rulers wanted Columbus to disappear, he was allowed one final voyage from 1502 to 1504. He died in 1506, and went virtually unmentioned by historians until he was resurrected as a symbol of the United States.

Inventing Columbus

In the mid-18th century, scholars brought to light long-forgotten documents about Columbus and the early history of the New World.

One of the most important was Bartolome de las Casas’ three-volume “Historia de las Indias.” This book was suppressed in Spain because it documented Spain’s harsh treatment of the native peoples. His depiction of Spanish mistreatment of the Indians provided the foundation for the “Black Legend.” His account “blackened” Spanish character by depicting it as repressive, brutal, intolerant and intellectually and artistically backward. Whatever Spain’s motives, the conquest of the Americas destroyed native cultures and ushered in centuries of African enslavement.

Another was the personal journal of Christopher Columbus from his first voyage, published in 1880. The journal captured the attention of Gustavus Fox, Abraham Lincoln’s assistant secretary of the Navy, who made the first attempt to reconstruct the route of Columbus’s first voyage.

Renewed scholarly interest in Columbus coincided with political motives to deny Spain any remaining claims in the Americas. Spain’s American colonies declared independence, one by one, from the beginning of the 19th century. Simón Bolivar, and other Creole revolutionary leaders, embraced a classical philosophy that highlighted their Roman ancestry to a degree that “Spanish America” was converted to Latin America. The final assault came with the U.S. invasion of Cuba and the six-month Spanish-American War in 1898. Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory, and this year marks the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the U.S. Virgin Islands from Denmark.

Columbus likely would have slipped back into obscurity if not for American hubris.

The Columbian Exposition

In 1889, France put on what reviewers described as the most spectacular World’s Fair possible. Held on the Champs de Mars in Paris, its crowning achievement was the Eiffel Tower.

Looking West From Peristyle, Court of Honor and Grand Basin of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The Project Gutenberg EBook of Official Views of The World's Columbian Exposition

After Paris, the United States set out to prove to the world it was the equal of Europe by staging its own World’s Fair. No one has claimed credit for the theme of the Exposition, but the stage was set when American writer and author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Washington Irving, attempted to revive his flagging career by writing the first biography of Christopher Columbus in English, published in 1828.

His embellishments created the great hero whose legend the fair celebrated: “He was one of those men of strong natural genius, who appear to form themselves; who, from having to contend at their very outset with privations and impediments, acquire an intrepidity in braving and a facility in vanquishing difficulties.”

The Columbian Exposition and World’s Fair was timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the New World. President William H. Harrison presided over opening ceremonies on Oct. 12, 1892. That same day, the Pledge of Allegiance was introduced in American schools.

Chicago created the “White City” – a collection of nine “palaces” designed by America’s greatest architects, conceived and constructed in only 26 months. Outside the White City was the grittier Midway, which is now a common feature of carnivals and fairs. The fair gave visitors their first taste of carbonated soda, Cracker Jacks and Juicy Fruit chewing gum. An enormous 264-foot-tall Ferris wheel transported 36 cars each carrying up to 60 people on a 20-minute ride. More than 28 million tickets were sold during the six months the Columbian Exposition was open. Columbus was the darling of 19th-century mass media.

Seventy-one portraits of Columbus, all posthumous, hung in a Grand Gallery. Following Irving’s descriptions, Columbus became the embodiment of the American Dream. The son of simple wool weavers and someone who had a great dream challenged the greatest scholars of his day, and boldly went where no man had gone before. Better yet, he was Italian. America could deny that Spain had any part in the discovery of the New World.

President Harrison declared a national holiday to coincide with opening of the Columbian Exposition – Columbus Day. It was officially recognized by Congress in 1937.

In 1992, as the United States prepared for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, the pendulum swung again. The devastating impact of his “discovery” on native peoples throughout the Americas led protesters to decry Columbus as a “terrorist.”

Columbus the man died more than 500 years ago. Columbus the legend is still being dismantled. His story illustrates the blurred borders between myth and history – how an architect of destruction was turned into a national symbol.

The ConversationThis is an updated version of an article originally published on Oct. 10, 2016.

William Francis Keegan, Curator of Caribbean Archaeology, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

The difference between black football fans and white football fans

October 10, 2017
Tamir Sorek and Robert G. White

Two UF sociologists discuss their recent study that might explain divergent, emotional responses to the NFL protests.

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New Orleans Saints fans cheer from the stands during a game against the Denver Broncos in 2016. Jeff Haynes/AP Photo

Tamir Sorek, University of Florida and Robert G. White, University of Florida

A significant portion of the NFL’s fan base has reacted negatively to the national anthem protests of the past year. The responses tend to follow a pattern:

The stadium is no place for political protest. The game is a color-blind meritocracy. To protest football is to protest America.

But according to a study we published last year, white football fans and black football fans hold very different views about the relationship between football and national pride. And it might explain why there have been such divergent, emotional responses to the protests.

Black Americans love football, but…

Social scientists who study sports have long argued that sports are a powerful political stage. Popular wisdom, on the other hand, tends to maintain that sports are inherently apolitical, and should remain that way.

It’s true that until recently, visible black protests in American sports were rare. Yes, Muhammad Ali was outspoken about politics and became a symbol of black protest in the 1960s. And there’s the famous instance of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in the 1968 Olympic Games. But generally, athletes have not waded into politics, no doubt in part because of the influence of corporate interests and sponsors. (Michael Jordan, when asked why he wouldn’t endorse a black Democratic candidate for Senate in 1990, famously said, “Republicans buy shoes too.”)

So for many white fans, the racial issues addressed by the protests upend what they see as the innocent, colorless patriotism of football.

But for black fans, feelings of alienation toward the imposed patriotism in NFL games have been stewing for a while. And it may be that black athletes finally decided to respond to the attitudes of their black fans.

In our study, we aggregated 75 opinion polls between 1981 and 2014, and compared the relationship between national pride and football fandom among white and black Americans.

We found that since the early 1980s, national pride has been in decline among American men and women of all races. But among black men, this decline has been especially sharp. At the same time, it’s also been accompanied by a marked increase in their interest in the NFL.

We suspect that this inverse relationship isn’t coincidental.

Which Americans do patriotic displays speak to?

For decades, the league and broadcasting networks have conflated football with patriotism. Massive American flags get spread across the field before the game, celebrities sing highly produced renditions of the national anthem, military jets streak across the skies and teams routinely honor veterans and active service members.

Fighter jets do a flyover and military personnel hold a giant American flag before an NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Ravens. Mel Evans/AP Photo

Networks air segments about the players’ lives and team histories that emphasize racial integration and national unity. They also promote the narrative that hard work and following the rules lead to success on the field – the crux of the American Dream.

Many football fans might embrace these displays, which reinforce their beliefs and reflect their view of the country as a colorblind meritocracy.

Indeed, our study did show that enthusiasm for football and national pride are interrelated.

But the nature of this relationship depends on your race.

Only among white Americans did we find a positive association between football fandom and national pride: Football fans were much more likely to express high levels of national pride than white Americans who weren’t football fans. Among African-Americans, on the other hand, there was a negative association. This suggests that when black fans watch their favorite team play, it’s a very different type of experience.

And this was happening long before Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee.

Black identity and American identity

W.E.B Du Bois once observed that for black Americans, a fundamental tension exists between their American identities and their black identities. We now know from other studies that African-Americans tend to see themselves as less “typically American” than other races. Meanwhile, among white Americans there’s a common tendency to link American national identity with whiteness.

It could be that the symbols of American national pride – so visible during football games – give white fans the chance to unite their national pride with their fandom. To them, the fact that African-Americans make up between 65 and 69 percent of all NFL players is simply part of the country’s ethos of “inclusion.”

But for black fans, the overrepresentation of African-American athletes might mean something else. Football broadcasts can create highly visible opportunities to express black prowess, pride and resistance. At the same time, watching wildly successful black players on the football field might sharpen the contrast of racial injustice off the field.

Meanwhile, studies have shown that the more black Americans emphasize their blackness, the less likely they are to have patriotic feelings.

Together, this could create a situation where black fans are prone to reject the popular national narrative that links football to a wider, ethnically blind meritocratic order. To many of them, football isn’t connected to any sort of national identity in a positive way, so it’s easier for black fans to press successful black athletes to protest the status quo and use their platforms to address issues of discrimination and inequality.

In other words, even before black athletes started taking an explicit stand, their presence and success on the field created the conditions to question the dominant ideology of a meritocratic, colorblind society. National debates about inequality, police brutality and incarceration clearly resonate with many players, and they’ve been pushed to respond.

The ConversationLooking at it this way, these protests were only a matter a time.

Tamir Sorek, Professor of Sociology, University of Florida and Robert G. White, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

What Gandhi can teach today’s protesters

October 11, 2017
Whitney Sanford

At the 148th anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi’s birth, a UF religion professor explains what made Gandhi’s strategy of non-violent resistance so effective and what we can learn from it.

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Mohandas K. Gandhi during a prayer meeting on Jan. 22, 1948. AP Photo/File

Whitney Sanford, University of Florida

Almost a century ago, Mohandas K. Gandhi – commonly known by the honorific Mahatma, the great-souled one – emphasized nonviolent resistance in his campaign for Indian independence.

Today, as my research shows, Gandhi has become an iconic figure for people seeking social change, including communities across the United States.

Explaining nonviolence

For Gandhi, nonviolence was not simply the absence of physical violence. Self-rule and radical democracy in which everyone participates in the governance process were also part of Gandhi’s idea of nonviolence.

He believed that self-rule should extend to all people, rich and poor, male and female, and at all levels of society. To him, authority over others was a form of violence. To achieve that vision, he encouraged participation of women and the lower castes in economic and political matters.

These ideas about violence and authority had circulated in the U.S. in the 19th century, especially among the Christian peace churches such as the Quakers and Mennonites. In this view, equality and the lack of hierarchical structures are forms of nonviolence.

Gandhi breaking his fast. AP Photo/Max Desfor

For Gandhi, it was the Indian religions, Hinduism and Jainism, that shaped his activism. His mother, a devout Hindu, taught him the importance of fasting as a form of self-discipline and religious devotion. From the Jains, with whom he grew up, he learned nonviolence and nonpossessiveness. In particular, he drew on the Hindu text “Bhagavad Gita” (The Song of the Lord) for a religious framework on the values of simplicity, duty and nonviolence.

All this translated into Gandhi’s peaceful expression of protest of which the most potent “weapon” was fasting.

Nonviolent resistance

The Salt March of 1930 is one of Gandhi’s best-known acts of peaceful resistance.

Under colonial rule, the British taxed Indians for salt and declared that making or collecting salt was illegal. Since salt is necessary for survival, this issue affected each and every Indian. They considered this law unjust and morally wrong.

Gandhi organized a 241-mile march across western India to the city of Dandi in Gujarat, in western India, where he collected salt, illegally. He started with 78 people. But as the marchers proceeded, thousands more joined. Weeks later, his unarmed followers marched to a government salt depot, where they met violent retaliation.

In the words of American journalist Webb Miller,

“At a word of command, scores of native police rushed upon the advancing marchers and rained blows on their heads…Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins.

For Gandhi, resistance meant placing one’s own body in harm’s way, open to the possibility of injury, imprisonment or even death. And that is what made it such such a powerful political tool.

Martin Luther King Jr. giving a speech at Selma, Alabama. AP Photo/Horace Cort

Years later, Martin Luther King Jr., who met with Gandhi, would employ similar ways of nonviolent resistance.

Indeed, it was the visceral horror of what happened in the two countries that rapidly swung public opinion.

During the Indian independence movement, descriptions of British clubs striking unarmed Indians in the Salt March drew worldwide sympathy. Back in the U.S., Americans watched with horror as Birmingham police set dogs upon African-Americans during a peaceful civil rights protest in 1963. This pushed President Kennedy to take action and eventually led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

What can we learn from Gandhi

In my research, I found many communities in the U.S. replicating Gandhi’s model: Possibility Alliance in La Plata, Missouri, and Cherith Brook Catholic Worker House in Kansas City, Missouri, are among those who have used nonviolent protests to raise their voice against racial and economic injustices.

But, for others, as we have seen in recent months, keeping protests peaceful can be difficult. There were reports, for example, of violence during protests on college campuses and rallies against or in support of President Trump. The Black Lives Matter movement has been accused of rioting, for example, in Baton Rouge where members blocked intersections.

At times, oppressive regimes might themselves retaliate violently, blaming the protesters for their retaliation. King too was criticized for inciting violence. Only later was he labeled ”passive and nonconfrontational.

The ConversationFor contemporary protesters, Gandhi and King’s political strategies could provide some valuable lessons. The peaceful resistance that the two pursued was more effective in exposing hard truths about injustices. And it is worth remembering what King wrote, in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, that he "earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

Whitney Sanford, Professor of Religion, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

Knowing the signs of Lewy body dementia may help speed diagnosis

October 12, 2017
Melissa J. Armstrong

A UF neurologist speculates on why more people don’t recognize the signs of the second most common type of dementia.

File 20171005 9767 1o8qcoh
Lewy body dementia and other illnesses of aging brains cause immeasurable suffering for patients and their families. sabthai/Shutterstock.com

Melissa J. Armstrong, University of Florida

Lewy body dementia reached the public eye in 2014 after reports that Robin Williams died with diffuse Lewy body disease.

But, despite the fact that Lewy body dementia is the second most common dementia, it remains frequently unrecognized.

In one study, almost 70 percent of people diagnosed with Lewy body dementia saw three consultants before receiving the diagnosis. For a third of people with the disease, getting the correct diagnosis took more than two years.

October is Lewy Body Dementia Awareness Month. As a physician specializing in Lewy body dementia, I often hear patients and families describe delays in getting a diagnosis. It doesn’t have to be this way. Awareness is critical, particularly as new opportunities emerge for diagnosis and treatment.

What is Lewy body dementia?

The word “dementia” describes a condition affecting a person’s memory and thinking that is a decline from how he or she used to function and that is severe enough to affect day-to-day life. Alzheimer’s disease dementia and Lewy body dementia are the two most common types.

Lewy body dementia gets its name from the abnormal protein clumps that are seen on autopsies of the brains of people with Lewy body dementia. The protein alpha-synuclein – a protein found in the brain, not one you eat – clumps into spheres called Lewy bodies which can be seen using a microscope. These are named after F. H. Lewy, the person who first described them.

The diagnosis Lewy body dementia is an umbrella term that includes two different conditions: dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia.

Robin Williams was diagnosed with diffuse Lewy body disease only after his death in 2014. Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock.com

In dementia with Lewy bodies, a person develops memory and thinking problems before or at the same time as he or she develops movement problems that resemble Parkinson’s disease.

In Parkinson’s disease dementia, a person who has experienced Parkinson’s disease movement problems for years then also develops trouble with memory and thinking.

These two conditions share many of the same features. In addition to memory and thinking problems and movement problems, people with these conditions can have fluctuations in their alertness and concentration, hallucinations and paranoia, acting out dreams during sleep (something called REM sleep behavior disorder), low blood pressure with standing, daytime sleepiness and depression, among other symptoms.

Diagnosis is important

Getting the correct diagnosis is critical for patients and families. While no one wants to hear that they have a disease that currently can’t be cured, patients and families often feel relief that they finally have an explanation for what’s happening.

The diagnosis of Lewy body dementia is often missed due to lack of awareness by physicians, patients and families. Even for people eventually receiving a diagnosis of Lewy body dementia, research shows their first diagnosis is commonly incorrect. In that study, 26 percent of people later diagnosed with Lewy body dementia were first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and 24 percent were given a psychiatric diagnosis like depression.

Knowing the correct diagnosis lets patients and families connect to resources such as the Lewy Body Dementia Association, an organization dedicated to helping people living with this disease. The organization provides education on Lewy body dementia, helps patients and families know what to expect, links patients and families to support and resources and connects them to research opportunities.

Once a diagnosis is made, physicians can also suggest potentially helpful treatments. Medications can include carbidopa/levodopa (Sinemet®), a drug that helps with slow movements, and cholinesterase inhibitors, which are drugs developed for Alzheimer’s disease that may also help people with Lewy body dementia.

Avenues for research

There is a great deal that we still need to learn about the Lewy body dementias. Increasing research is a priority of the National Institutes of Health.

Earlier this year, experts published new criteria for the diagnosis of dementia with Lewy bodies, aiming to improve accurate diagnosis.

There are also currently multiple research studies trying to find drugs to help people with Lewy body dementias, including studies to investigate drugs hoped to improve thinking, hallucinations and walking.

For Parkinson’s disease dementia, a new drug called pimavanserin was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2016 to treat hallucinations. Current research studies are testing drugs hoped to improve memory and thinking.

Researchers into Lewy body dementia hope that continued studies will lead to improved treatments. toeytoey/Shutterstock.com

Scientists also hope to learn more about the alpha-synuclein protein clumps in the Lewy body diseases. Recent vaccine studies suggested that the body might be able to create antibodies against alpha-synuclein. This could be the first step toward a vaccine to help people with Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies. If effective, a vaccine would prompt the immune systems of people with these diseases to create antibodies to attack and clear the protein clumps.

The ConversationWith advances in diagnosis and treatment, there is reason for hope.

Melissa J. Armstrong, Assistant Professor, Neurology, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Science & Wellness

Engineered river diversions sequester carbon in deltas

October 9, 2017
Rachel Wayne

Researchers from the University of Florida have found that a delta of a distributary on the Mississippi River created by coastal engineering efforts may have the potential to build long-term sinks of greenhouse gases.

The carbon sequestration potential and guidelines for future engineering and restoration shown in the Wax Lake Delta (WLD) of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River are described in a paper published today in Nature Geoscience by co-lead authors Michael Shields, postdoc in the Department of Geological Sciences, Thomas Bianchi, Jon and Beverly Thompson Endowed Chair of Geological Sciences, and David Mohrig at the University of Texas at Austin. 

The WLD formed naturally after the initial river diversion was engineered, according to the study.

“We discovered that in a system losing land at a rate equivalent to one football field every hour, an engineered river diversion not only built land, but also buried carbon at rates comparable to, or greater than, that of the most efficient terrestrial carbon sinks of similar area,” Shields said.

The land-building accomplished by deltas can reduce atmospheric carbon, and therefore the greenhouse effect, by trapping the carbon in sediment. Careful engineering can divert sediment deposition in the context of other factors, such as storms, runoff and avulsion (when a river abandons its channel). Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan aims to divert Mississippi River sedimentation into proper receiving basins.

The paper focuses on WLD, a subdelta, that has potential to create a blue carbon habitat (carbon stored in marine and coastal ecosystems). An effect of a diversion built in 1941 to reduce the Atchafalaya’s flooding in a nearby city, it has built about 35 square kilometers of new land. "Engineered river diversions that return sediment to wetlands and bays utilize natural processes to build land and bury carbon in new subdeltas,” explained Shields.

Delta studies must now accommodate a variety of anthropogenic factors, including reservoirs, levees, and subsurface fluid extraction. Delta restoration combines engineering and geological science to encourage continued sedimentation, which “buries” organic carbon, preventing it from returning to the atmosphere. 

The researchers sought to measure total carbon storage within the entire delta deposit to account for carbon buried while the delta was still subaqueous (i.e. underwater). Many deltas are threatened by greater subsidence (subterranean sinking and caving) and relative sea-level rise compared to coastlines without deltas. Thus engineering efforts to expand carbon-sequestering habitats must accommodate total carbon sequestration in order to reduce atmospheric carbon. 

“When considering the current problems we face with global warming and sea level rise, a greater understanding of how we can stabilize our coastlines and help preserve coastal wetlands is vital for our future,” Bianchi said. 

The research was conducted with generous support from Bianchi’s endowed chair by Jon and Beverly Thompson, in collaboration with William F. Kenney of the Land Use and Environmental Change Institute, as well as the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

Global Impact

Haiti reimagined

October 16, 2017
Stephenie Livingston
Agriculture, Haiti

Society & Culture

Marketing a devastated Puerto Rico should not be the priority

October 12, 2017
Carlos A. Suarez Carrasquillo

A UF political scientist considers the cost of Puerto Rico’s significant efforts to brand itself as a means of attracting foreign investment to counteract debt, unemployment and massive migration to the United States.

President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria added one more moment of infamy to Puerto Rico’s 119 years as a colonial territory.

Trump was taken to Muñoz Rivera, a middle-class neighborhood in Guaynabo. Most homes there are made of concrete and saw little impact from Hurricane Maria. The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, claimed that this location was chosen to save time at the request of the White House staff.

President Donald Trump talks with residents during a tour a neighborhood impacted by Hurricane Maria, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Yet many observers were perplexed that Trump had no direct contact with the most devastated areas on the island. As a scholar of Puerto Rican politics, I wasn’t surprised that some Puerto Rican politicians were willing to play along in this deception. The whole thing reminded me of decades of marketing efforts by Puerto Rican state and municipal governments to lure outsiders by creating the Puerto Rico brand.

But at what cost?

Branding Puerto Rico

The Puerto Rican government and its municipalities have engaged in aggressive marketing campaigns to attract foreign investment as a way to deal with the many challenges that predate the arrival of Hurricane María: a significant amount of debt, growing unemployment and massive migration to the United States. Puerto Rico’s economy, like that of other Caribbean islands, has been based in its consumption since Europeans landed. Relying on tourism led by foreign capital has led to economic dependency.

During the 1990s and early to mid-2000s, the municipality of Guaynabo, a suburb of the capital San Juan, engaged in an aggressive campaign of branding to increase tax revenue. They sought to attract local and foreign investment in real estate development and industries such as retail and telecommunications. Guaynabo used English to lure wealthier residents who viewed the municipality as prestigious. The socioeconomic profile of the municipality changed.

Residents with more economic means moved in and gentrified the area. This came at the expense of the working-class residents who were eventually bought out or kicked out. Public housing units such as Los Álamos were effectively closed. Residents of historic neighborhoods, such as Vietnam, have been resisting displacement.

The government of Puerto Rico also engaged in significant branding efforts to bring tourists from mostly the eastern and southern U.S. – where the majority of Puerto Rico’s tourists come from. “Puerto Rico Does it Better” was a campaign led by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company in the 1990s. During the last four years, there were efforts to brand Puerto Rico as the “The All Star Island.” The government went to great lengths to get this message across in Europe, arranging a contract worth US$3.5 million with a Spanish soccer team, Sevilla FC, to have the slogan on the front of its jersey.

In the decades preceding Maria, there were increased efforts to attract sports tourism, sun and beach tourism, cruise ship tourism and destination weddings. Puerto Rico took advantage of the economic boom of the 1990s until the Great Recession. Tourism became a staple of the Puerto Rican service economy, and branding became a useful tool for economic growth and stability.

However, this growing focus on branding has had major political cost. Public administration has turned into an effort to please investors, rather than the public that votes politicians into office. Attracting foreign capital through tax breaks has turned problematic when the finances of these foreign investors go sour. Since the early 1990s, government efforts have focused on privatizing the island. Public utilities like water and power have been unable to currently rebuild Puerto Rico, in part because of previous cost-cutting efforts by the government. The public utility companies are now facing increasing debt and a decreasing workforce and are vulnerable to privatization.

Branding also fails to address the political and structural challenges inherent to Puerto Rico’s colonial status. For example, Puerto Rico has no vote in the U.S. Congress, and it’s not a sovereign nation. The island has also been subject to unfair shipping regulations. Puerto Rico has dealt with a mounting debt that is currently addressed by PROMESA. With the significant economic shortcoming many Puerto Ricans of productive age are migrating. Focusing solely on driving tourism fails to address these deep political issues.

In the face of these challenges, Puerto Rico’s public officials must decide how to move forward.

Branding after tragedy

The tragedy that Hurricane María has brought to Puerto Rico is a valuable opportunity to refocus on promoting a strong Puerto Rican business and working class.

If Puerto Rico is interested in a more honest way to brand itself, we should look to a book published more than 20 years ago by Trías Monge entitled “Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World.” In this book, Monge writes about Puerto Rico’s century-old relationship with the United States and argues for an end to the commonwealth status that has been in place since 1952. Whether that means Puerto Rico becoming a state or an independent country remains to be determined by the Puerto Rican people and the U.S. Congress.

The ConversationAn emphasis on infrastructure and production of goods and services rather than an island to be consumed may prove to be a good strategy for a country where hurricanes threaten our existence every year.

Carlos A Suárez Carrasquillo, Lecturer in Political Science, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

Get involved in public life, says speaker at Hispanic Heritage Month Forum

October 12, 2017
Kendra Blandon

As its main event for Hispanic Heritage Month at UF, the Hispanic Heritage Month student organization hosted nationally recognized political commentator Ana Navarro on October 10 at the Reitz Union Grand Ballroom.  Over 400 students, faculty, and staff attended to hear the viewpoint of a Republican Latina, highlighting a lesser-known section of the Latin-x political identity. 

The Hispanic Heritage Month Forum event was presented as a conversation with Dania Alexandrino, Spanish-language news manager at the UF College of Journalism and Communications, and producer of the weekly Noticias WUFT radio broadcast. Alexandrino, a former CNN en español reporter and producer, recently joined UF.

The conversation covered topics ranging from immigration, the term 'fake news,' and bipartisan politics. The event was organized by UF undergraduates Kendra Blandon, Alberto Barcenas, Andres Garcia, and Laura Robles-Torres. 

For many students at UF, Navarro's personal story resonated. Fleeing the Nicaraguan civil war, Navarro described how she migrated to the United States when she was eight years old. Among her comments, Navarro said she sympathized with DACAmented Gators, saying, "But for the grace of God, I would have been a DACA kid, too." The University of Florida is home to countless undocumented and DACAmented students who struggle to pave their way in education in spite of their legal status. The official philanthropy for Hispanic Heritage Month, CHISPAS, provides financial assistance to undocumented students that otherwise could not afford attending college. 

In both the comments and on site, the event focused on civil responsibility and civic engagement in the student body. Chomp the Vote, the voter registration agency of Student Government, was on hand to register students to vote in upcoming elections. From the stage, Navarro encouraged the audience to get involved in public life, and call their Congressional representatives, speak out against injustice, and advocate for their communities. “If you’re not registered to vote, don’t talk to me about politics,” Navarro said in both English and Spanish to the audience.

"Stand Up, Speak Up, Empower," was the theme of the night as students engaged in an open and honest conversation on national and local politics. Hispanic Heritage Month and Hispanic Student Association are proud to promote the professional, cultural, and personal growth of all of its members. To learn more about HSA events and CHISPAS, visit to https://www.facebook.com/HSAatUF/ and http://chispasuf.com.

photo of students as Ana Navarro event

Campus Life

UF announces largest fundraising campaign in university history

October 12, 2017
Tom Mitchell

Campaign header

Go Greater positions UF to be a leader in addressing 21st century challenges

The University of Florida has undertaken the most ambitious fundraising campaign in its history to continue its rise as one of the nation’s leading public universities, UF officials will announce tonight at an exciting campus event. The $3 billion initiative — tagged Go Greater —is among the largest active campaigns for a public university and almost double the $1.72 billion raised during UF’s previous campaign, which concluded in 2012.

Resources secured during the Go Greater campaign will be the catalyst necessary for the university to address some of society’s biggest challenges, such as improving cybersecurity, ensuring lasting global food and fresh water supplies, creating clean energies, combating emerging diseases, solving health issues like diabetes and obesity, and dealing with a rapidly changing natural environment. The campaign’s announcement follows UF’s No. 9 ranking on the 2018 U.S. News and World Report’s list of best national public universities; and it reflects a shared vision between state and university leaders for UF to be a global standard-bearer in higher education. University leadership expressed its gratitude to Florida’s governor and elected officials for their support in this private-public partnership.

The campaign is entering its “public phase” with momentum. More than 500,000 gifts were received and $1.3 billion raised during its three-year “quiet phase” — when some of the university’s most generous philanthropists invested in UF to set the stage for the campaign’s public announcement. Some of those leadership commitments:

  • $75 million from Miami couple Al and Judy Warrington, to enhance teaching and research in UF’s Warrington College of Business;
  • $50 million from South Florida entrepreneur Herbert and Nicole Wertheim, to revolutionize engineering education and research;
  • $32 million from Andrew and Pamela Banks, to create endowments that support faculty and scholarships for Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars; and,
  • $16 million from South Carolina businesswoman Anita Zucker, to establish a center for early childhood studies, enhance brain discovery and support first-generation Opportunity Scholars.

“The Go Greater campaign is about the people, the families and the communities the university serves, from Gainesville to around the globe,” President Kent Fuchs said. “It’s about generating the resources that will allow us to lead the nation’s premier universities in exceptional education, impactful research and far-reaching public engagement.”

Gifts made during the campaign will elevate UF’s discovery, academics and outreach, while strengthening the university’s role as an economic engine and trusted resource for people throughout the nation, he said. Among the campaign’s priorities are investing in programs, projects and initiatives that support biodiversity research and education, early childhood studies, technology transfer, medicines, food safety and security, and a deeper understanding of the human brain. Specific goals for the campaign are to:

  • Create 200 more faculty endowments and 400 new student scholarships;
  • Invest in priority infrastructure and facilities;
  • Fund multidisciplinary “Bright Ideas”;
  • Strengthen UF’s national and global stature;
  • Raise $3 billion in campaign commitments; and,
  • Add $1 billion to UF’s endowment.

“Never in the history of civilization have changes and opportunities been as abrupt or globally consequential — or as hopeful — as they are now. Our universities will the lead way in the 21st century, and the University of Florida is one of the most important, influential and impactful. Go Greater will enable us to meet those challenges — whatever they might be — head-on, with resolve and strength,” said Anita Zucker, the campaign’s volunteer chair for 2017-2018.

The Go Greater campaign is expected to conclude in fall 2022. It is the university’s fourth campaign since 1986.

The University of Florida, the state’s flagship university, is the U.S. News and World Report’s ninth-highest ranked public university. It serves more than 50,000 students from 50 states and 131 countries. With five professional schools and 200 research, service and education centers, bureaus and institutes on a single 2,000-acre campus, UF offers educational opportunities matched by only five universities worldwide. Almost 400,000 UF alumni represent the Gator Nation globally. For information about the Go Greater campaign, visit www.uff.ufl.edu/gogreater

Global Impact

UF offers free online courses to students displaced by hurricanes in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

October 13, 2017
Steve Orlando
Hurricane, Irma, Maria, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

The University of Florida is offering free courses through UF Online to assist college students displaced by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Undergraduate students displaced from select colleges and who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents may enroll as non-degree seeking students in UF Online courses for the spring 2018 term and/or the summer 2018 term(s) at no charge for tuition and fees.

UF anticipates being able to handle 1,000 students through the program.

“I’m proud that the University of Florida is helping Puerto Rican students continue their education online as Puerto Rican families work to rebuild their lives following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria,” Gov. Rick Scott said. “We are doing everything we can to help them throughout this process, and we will continue to work together to make sure Puerto Rican families have all the support they need to rebuild their lives.”

Said UF Provost Joe Glover: “The devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Maria is almost unparalleled. We hope this opportunity will help some of the people in the affected areas begin to rebuild their lives and will assist in the progress toward restoring a sense of normalcy for students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

The listing of courses that will be offered by UF Online during spring 2018 can be found at http://info.ufonline.ufl.edu/displaced-students-courses. To apply and for more information, go to https://registrar.ufl.edu/displaced-students

Students will be expected to provide some evidence they were/are enrolled in one of the schools listed below. Examples of acceptable evidence include: student ID card, a bill from their school for housing, and/or tuition, a transcript, etc. It should be noted that all UF Online courses are taught in English.

Upon request, effective in fall 2018, undergraduate students from Puerto Rico and/or the U.S. Virgin Islands will be considered for degree-seeking status in UF Online at normal UF Online tuition (75 percent of the resident in-state tuition with reduced fees) as degree-seeking students provided they were degree-seeking students in good standing at four-year colleges and/or universities in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands and provide appropriate documentation by August 30, 2018.

UF will evaluate what credits can be transferred from the student’s former institution to the student’s UF transcript.

Students may also continue as non-degree seeking, paying the UF Online in-state rate, with no additional documentation required through the fall 2018 term. A list of programs available through UF Online can be found at https://ufonline.ufl.edu/degrees/undergraduate/.

Credits earned may be transferred to other public institutions in the state of Florida if the student becomes enrolled there as a degree-seeking student, since the UF Online courses offered are all part of the state wide common course inventory.

The credits earned may be transferable to universities in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and other states, but that determination will be made by the individual universities.

List of Institution:  Puerto Rico

Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico
San Juan, PR

Inter American University of Puerto Rico:

  • Aguadilla Campus, Aguadilla, PR
  • Barranquitas Campus, Barranquitas, PR
  • Bayamon Campus, Bayamon, PR
  • Fajardo Campus, Fajardo, PR
  • Guayama Campus, Guayama, PR
  • Metropolitan Campus, Rio Piedras, PR
  • Ponce Campus, Mercedita, PR
  • San German Campus, San German, PR

Universidad Metropolitana
San Juan, PR

University of Puerto Rico: Aguadilla
Aguadilla, PR

University of Puerto Rico: Arecibo
Arecibo, PR

University of Puerto Rico: Carolina Regional College
Carolina, PR

University of Puerto Rico: Cayey University College
Cayey, PR

University of Puerto Rico: Mayaguez
Mayaguez, PR

University of Puerto Rico: Ponce
Ponce, PR

University of Puerto Rico: Rio Piedras
San Juan, PR

University of Puerto Rico: Utuado
Utuado, PR

List of Institutions: U.S. Virgin Islands

University of the Virgin Island
St. Thomas

Global Impact

#TogetherUF Campaign to Hold Virtual Assembly

October 17, 2017
UF News

Student leaders to host online event for UF community

Student leaders are hosting a Virtual Assembly to air on Thursday, Oct. 19 at 2:30 p.m.

Virtual Assembly will be a series of videos and performances from around the UF community to open up dialogue about race relations, cooperation, diversity, and much more. Current students, faculty and staff will be able to view the assembly.

This is part of the student-led campaign called #TogetherUF that aims to promote community through collaborative events, open dialogue and positive action.

Discussion of this campaign began shortly after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia when students heard the National Policy Institute was looking to speak at UF. Although the committee was created to aid students in having an outlet to express their perspectives about various issues, they now have a common goal to spread unity centered around embracing our differences throughout the University of Florida’s campus.

This committee is composed of various student leaders, each representing different communities of the university.

Together UF is planning various events from forums to showcases in an effort to ensure that the community can engage in shared dialogue to challenge perspectives and learn from one another.

“We want to recognize that individuals can disagree and still maintain the same respect and understanding for one another,” said Ianne Itchon, a student leader helping plan the campaign. “We are seeking to rally students against hate and all its forms and to provide platforms for community action and education.”

Throughout the Virtual Assembly, students are invited to join the conversation on Facebook at facebook.com/togetherufcampaign. They will be posing questions throughout the assembly and asking students to add their opinions and voices.

Additionally, #TogetherUF will be holding Facebook-based fundraiser on Thursday, Oct. 19. Donations go to the UF Student Affairs crisis fund which helps students in need. The fund goes to support students in crisis – from hurricane relief to providing assistance for students needing emergency medical care.

“We want to help demonstrate that Gators take care of one another and that every Gator is important,” said. Bijal Desai. “We want to take the spotlight away from the controversial speaker and make headlines with the amazing things our diverse student body does together.”

More information about #TogetherUF can be found at https://www.facebook.com/togetherUFcampaign/.

Campus Life

I teach ethics at the university where Richard Spencer spoke

October 20, 2017
Anna L. Peterson

A UF ethicist ponders just how messy life’s moral dilemmas can get as a white nationalist visits the university.

Anna L. Peterson, University of Florida

Once in a while, life provides us with the kind of dramatic moral dilemma that even the most imaginative ethics textbook writer couldn’t think up.

Presently, my community – the University of Florida and the city of Gainesville – faces a dangerous and complicated series of dilemmas as a result of a visit from white supremacist Richard Spencer. This is his first speaking engagement after his supporters killed one woman and injured 19 people in Charlottesville in August. Spencer was not invited by anyone at UF, but he rented a lecture hall in our performing arts center, as nonuniversity groups do all the time.

As a social ethicist, I frequently teach moral dilemmas, perhaps involving a runaway trolley or a rogue army officer in a remote jungle. These scenarios are meant to give concreteness and urgency to an enduring question: How do we choose the right option when all options will cause harm?

How we respond

Dilemmas like these prompt lively class discussions, often around the two options that the philosophy textbook offers.

On the one hand, there is the Kantian option: Moral laws, such as that against killing an innocent person, must be valid without exceptions. Thus we may not push the fat man into the path of the trolley to save other lives.

On the other hand, there is the Utilitarian model, which tells us to choose the option whose total consequences generate more good and less evil. On this account, we should sacrifice one life in order to save many.

Our real lives almost never force us to choose the lesser of two evils in such dramatic ways, but Spencer’s visit does pose some hard moral choices – although one of them is not whether Spencer’s racist ideology is morally acceptable. There was no debate about that in Gainesville; our community is united in rejecting Spencer’s ideology. The dilemmas, as I see them, are rather about how institutions and individuals should respond in a situation when it seems we must choose among important values such as free speech, peace, racial justice and social equality.

UF denied Spencer’s initial request to speak. He threatened to sue, as he has successfully done at other institutions, including Auburn University. After extensive legal negotiations, administrators accepted his visit as an inevitability. They put their energy into minimizing harm, following the strategy of administrators at other universities, including my alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley.

UF and local government officials pursued two simultaneous strategies: actively denouncing Spencer and his message, while also reducing the risk of violence with draconian security procedures throughout campus and downtown Gainesville.

Spencer came to Gainesville because the Supreme Court takes a Kantian approach: Constitutional rights to free speech are universal moral rules, permitting no exceptions, even when following the rule seems likely to generate negative consequences. In a famous example, Kant argued against the “supposed right to lie from benevolent motives.” It is “a sacred unconditional command of reason” always to tell the truth, even to a murderer asking the location of his intended victim. Judicial interpretations of the First Amendment follow the same logic: The right to free speech must be universal, with no exceptions. Thus, Nazis and white supremacists must be allowed to speak freely, even at a university campus where no one seems to want them, and even when their speech openly rejects other core values, such as the dignity of all persons.

Some nations have modified the right to free expression with a form of “free speech consequentialism,” which permits governments to regulate certain kinds of speech in order to preserve other social goods. In 1972, for example, France made it illegal to incite racial hatred or to use language that was racially defamatory, contemptuous, or offensive. Under the Gayssot Law, passed in July 1990, it is illegal to deny publicly the occurrence of the Nazi Holocaust. And in 1990, it became illegal to publicly deny the Holocaust. These laws have not ended either racism or struggles over free speech in France, but they do make it easier for institutions to limit the free speech rights of people like Richard Spencer.

The U.S., in contrast, permits limits on free speech rights only in rare cases of “fighting words” that pose an imminent threat of violence. No one has yet used the “fighting words” argument against Spencer, despite Charlottesville and the fact that UF virtually closed the campus and expects to spend about US$500,000 on additional security for the event.

Competing claims

Spencer’s free speech rights pose real dilemmas for individuals in places like Gainesville. Should we ignore Spencer, as the university desperately wants us to do? Or do we protest, to show Spencer and the world that we categorically reject white supremacy?

As an ethicist, I find little help from the standard choice between Kantian and Utilitarian models. The textbook dilemmas where those options are applied are devoid of the concrete details that influence our real-life ethical decisions, and also of the larger political impact of words and deeds. This political context shapes the questions my community has been struggling with for the past week.

Are Spencer and those who protest him not only legally but also morally equivalent, as Ted Yoho, our congressional representative, implies? Yoho describes all those who oppose Spencer as “Antifa, a so-called ‘anti-fascist’ group comprised of radical Marxists and anarchists.” He sees no possibility that people who are not “radicals” would reject white supremacy. By denying substantive differences in the values of white supremacists and those who protest them, this approach avoids meaningful moral reflection and, in this case, reinforces Spencer’s frequent claim that he is a victim of people who want to “stifle” his free speech.

Another kind of moral equivalence is suggested by protesters who accuse those who stay away from campus, in a deliberate effort to deny Spencer more publicity, of acting like “good Germans,” a phrase that was used regularly in discussions prior to Spencer’s visit. Do those who ignore tacitly enable white supremacists to gain power? Do those who protest strengthen Spencer by following his playbook of confrontation? There is no easy answer to this question, and no theoretical one. The only sure answer will be the practical one – what happened? And that we will have only in retrospect.

The ConversationAs I finish this article, Richard Spencer has finished speaking. Protesters managed to fill many of the seats inside the Phillips Center, drowning him out much of the time. Many other people protested outside, and nobody was hurt. Now we wait for the white supremacists to go home, and ponder what has changed because they came.

Anna L. Peterson, Professor of Religion, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

Check out our spookiest stories, if you dare

October 25, 2017
Alisson Clark

We've rounded up our most goosebump-inducing stories about bats, spiders, snakes and bugs — and the people who devote their lives to understanding them.

bedbug research holds her colony

1) Daenerys Targaryen may be the mother of dragons, but UF doctoral student Brittany Campbell is the mother of bed bugs. Campbell has reared the country's first colony of tropical bed bugs, which can help her and other scientists determine how to stop their spread. Full story.

snake researcher holds cottonmouth in the dark

2) The moon rises over the tranquil beach of a Gulf Coast island. Then the snakes come out. There's not much about these fish-eating beach snakes that makes sense, but this researcher tries to understand them. Read more

3) Male jumping spiders try to mate with just about any female spider, even the wrong species. But a bad date doesn't just end in rejection. When things go poorly, she eats him. Full story.

bat fly out of bat barn

4) Crowds love watching 350,000 bats fly out of UF's bat village each night. They were less enthused when the bats lived in the track stadium and strafed sports fans with urine. Here's how UF found a happy home for its bug-eating neighbors. Full story. 

A post shared by Lary Reeves (@biodiversilary) on

5) Can we interest you in a close-up of a Tailless Whip Scorpion or a pollen-dotted moth proboscis? Entomology doctoral student Lary Reeves hopes his Instagram inspires you to give nature's less-beloved creatures another look. Read more

Science & Wellness

UF MBA Full-Time rises into nation’s top 5 publics

October 26, 2017
Allison Alsup

UF MBA at the Hough Graduate School of Business achieved its highest ranking ever in The Economist’s Which MBA Full-Time Rankings, rising to No. 5 among U.S. public institutions.

The UF MBA Full-Time program climbed 20 places from its position last year into the No. 20 program in the world. It also rose 5 places from last year’s No. 10 position among U.S. publics.

“At the UF Warrington College of Business, we have everything that makes a great MBA program, and this ranking does a nice job of taking all those aspects into account,” John Gresley, Assistant Dean and Director of the UF MBA program said. “We have world renowned faculty who are thought leaders, a dedicated admissions and student affairs staff who work tirelessly to ensure our students have a top-notch experience, and we have a best-in-class career services team who prepare our talented students for great jobs with the best employers in the world.”

“All in all, this is the kind of place students come for a transformational experience and to send them off prepared for a successful career.”
In addition to its significant gains among U.S. publics and overall rankings, the UF MBA Full-Time program was ranked No. 1 in the “Open New Career Opportunities” category, which evaluates diversity of recruiters, job placement success and student assessment of career services. The program also made a 16-place jump in the “Potential to Network” category, going from No. 37 to No. 21, and it ranked No. 1 in the “Alumnus Rating of Career Service” category.

“Our consistent climb in the rankings confirms the transformational impact UF MBA has driven in the lives of our students and validates our strategy of delivering concierge-level career services through a team of expert coaches with private-sector backgrounds,” Jason Rife, Director of Graduate Business Career Services said. “Coupled with our new scholarship model that offers 100% paid tuition for all admitted students, the No. 1 global ranking in Opening New Career Opportunities shows that the full-time MBA program offers an incredible return on investment.”

The UF MBA Full-Time program was also recently ranked No. 2 in ROI for graduates earning $100,000+ by U.S. News & World Report.
In addition to its strong rankings, the UF MBA Full-Time program is also proud to begin offering 100% tuition scholarships starting with the 2018 application cycle. Scholarships will be awarded to cover tuition and fees for in-state and out-of-state qualified students admitted to the full-time program. For more information about the 100% tuition scholarship, please click here.

The Economist’s full-time rankings are based on surveys sent to eligible programs and thousands of MBA students and graduates around the world. The programs are judged on four major categories: Open New Career Opportunities (35%), Personal Development/Education Experience (35%), Increase in Salary (20%), and Potential to Network (10%).

Campus Life

Florida consumer sentiment continues downward slide in October

October 31, 2017
Colleen Porter

Consumer sentiment among Floridians fell 1.5 points in October to 94.3 from a revised September reading of 95.8, according to the latest University of Florida consumer survey. October is the third consecutive month with a decline in consumer sentiment.

Among the five components that make up the index, one increased and four decreased.

The two components reflecting Floridians’ views about current economic conditions weakened in October. Perceptions of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago dropped 1.4 points from 87.1 to 85.7. Opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy a major household item declined 1.2 points, from 103.7 to 102.5.

Expectations of personal finances a year from now increased 2.5 points from 100.8 to 103.3, the only uptick in this month’s report. Anticipated U.S. economic conditions over the next year fell 3.2 points, from 94 to 90.8. Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years dropped 4.2 points, the greatest decline of any reading this month, from 93.2 to 89.

These three components represent the expectations about future economic conditions.

“Most of the pessimism in October comes from unfavorable expectations regarding U.S. economic conditions in the short and long run, especially from people with incomes greater than $50,000 and those 60 and older,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

He added, “Expectations about future economic conditions have shown important signs of deterioration for the past three consecutive months. Additionally, this month’s decline is accompanied by a downturn in the perceptions of present economic conditions.”

Florida’s economy keeps growing and approaching full employment, with a labor market that is expected to tighten even more and more jobs than workers to fill them. Despite the business closures and job losses triggered by Hurricane Irma in September, the Florida unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point from 4 to 3.8 percent in September. In fact, the Florida unemployment rate in September was the lowest reported since April 2007.

The industries gaining the most jobs over the year were education and health services, then trade, transportation and utilities, followed by the construction industry. The only industry losing jobs over the year was leisure and hospitality.

“The strengthening of the labor market will result in higher wages, which will become the main driver behind income growth for Floridians,” Sandoval said. “Despite declines in past months, consumer sentiment in Florida is higher compared to the same month last year. In particular, there is an important increase in consumers’ perception as to whether it is a good time to buy a major household item, from 90.3 to 102.5. This is a positive sign for retailers who can expect more spending during the holiday shopping season.”

Indeed, as the end-of-year shopping season begins, the National Retail Federation has forecast that holiday retail sales in November and December will increase between 3.6 and 4 percent from last year.

Conducted Oct. 1-26, the UF study reflects the responses of 532 individuals who were reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross section of Florida.

The index used by UF researchers is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2, the highest is 150.

Details of this month’s survey can be found at http://www.bebr.ufl.edu/csi-data

Society & Culture

Measuring the implicit biases we may not even be aware of

October 31, 2017
Kate Ratliff and Colin Smith

Two UF psychology professors examine the prejudices and stereotypes that contribute to social inequality and discuss the tests social scientists apply to measure the implicit bias people tend to harbor.

File 20171027 13331 15sspo6.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Introspection won’t necessarily reveal what’s going on in there. Photo by Septian simon on Unsplash, CC BY

Kate Ratliff, University of Florida and Colin Smith, University of Florida

When most people think of bias, they imagine an intentional thought or action – for example, a conscious belief that women are worse than men at math or a deliberate decision to pull someone over because of his or her race. Gender and race biases in the United States have historically been overt, intentional and highly visible. But, changes to the legal system and norms guiding acceptable behavior in the U.S. have led to clear reductions in such explicit bias.

Unfortunately, we still see disparities in health, law enforcement, education and career outcomes depending on group membership. And many large-scale disparities we see in society also show up in small-scale studies of behavior. So, how are these inequalities sustained in a country that prides itself on egalitarianism?

Of course, overt sexists and racists still exist and explicit biases are important. However, this isn’t how many social and organizational scientists like us currently understand prejudice – negative attitudes toward members of a social group – and stereotyping – beliefs about the characteristics of a social group. Our field is working to understand and measure implicit bias, which stems from attitudes or stereotypes that occur largely outside of conscious awareness and control.

How to reveal biases we may not know we have

In many cases, people don’t know they have these implicit biases. Much like we cannot introspect on how our stomachs or lungs are working, we cannot simply “look inside” our own minds and find our implicit biases. Thus, we can only understand implicit bias through the use of psychological measures that get around the problems of self-report.

There are a number of measures of implicit bias; the most widely used is called the Implicit Association Test (IAT; you can try one here). Researchers have published thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles based on the IAT since its creation in 1998.

Example of a screen in the IAT. Participants are asked to sort the image in the middle to the left or right. Project Implicit, Author provided

The IAT measures the strength of associations between social groups (for instance, black and white people) and evaluations (such as good and bad). Just as you likely have a strong mental link between peanut butter and jelly, or doctor and nurse, our minds make links between social groups (like “women”) and evaluations (“positive”) or stereotypes (“nurturing”).

When taking an Implicit Association Test, one rapidly sorts images of black and white people and positive and negative words. The main idea is that making a response is easier when items that are more closely related in memory share the same response key. In one part of the test, black faces and negative words share the same response key, while white faces and positive words share a different response key. In another part of the test, white faces and negative words share the same response key, and black faces and positive words share a different response key. The extent to which one is able to do the white + good version of the test more easily than the black + good version reflects an implicit pro-white bias.

Other screens within the IAT are text-based. Project Implicit, Author provided

Pro-white implicit biases are pervasive. Data from millions of visitors to the Project Implicit website reveal that, while about 70 percent of white participants report having no preference between black and white people, nearly the same number show some degree of pro-white preference on the IAT. Other tests reveal biases in favor of straight people over gay people, abled people over disabled people and thin people over fat people, and show that people associate men with science more readily than they associate women with science.

Do IAT scores relate to real-world behavior?

Another central question about implicit bias and the IAT is how it relates to discriminatory behavior. Arguably, what people actually do is most important, particularly when trying to understand how individual biases might lead to societal disparities.

And, in fact, researchers have demonstrated that people’s scores on the IAT predict how they behave. For example, one study showed that physicians with higher levels of implicit race bias were less likely to recommend appropriate treatment for a black patient than a white patient with coronary artery disease. A meta-analysis of more than 150 studies also supports the idea that there is a reliable relationship between implicit bias, measured by the IAT, and real-world behavior.

This is not to say, however, that there’s a one-to-one correspondence between implicit bias and behavior; someone with strong pro-white implicit bias might sometimes hire a black employee, and someone with little or no implicit pro-white bias might sometimes discriminate against a black person in favor of a less qualified white person.

While the link between race bias and behavior is robust, it is also fairly small. But small does not mean unimportant. Small effects can have cumulative consequences at both the societal level (across lots of different people making decisions) and at the individual level (across lots of different decisions that one person makes). And some implicit biases are more related to behavior than others; for example, implicit political preferences have a very strong relationship with voting behavior.

Certainly more work is needed to understand the precise conditions under which the IAT will predict behavior, and how strongly, and for what attitudes. But in the aggregate, across people and settings, there is a substantial body of evidence indicating that the IAT is related to behavior.

Job applicants at a career fair might be up against the implicit biases of the hirer. BYU–Hawaii, CC BY-NC-ND

With or without a test, implicit bias exists

The idea that people have associations in their minds, particularly in socially sensitive domains, that contradict their self-reported beliefs is well-established within the social sciences. But there remain important open questions about how best to identify and quantify such implicit biases and when and how implicit biases in people’s minds translate into meaningful, real-world behavior.

The IAT has withstood constant criticism since its creation in 1998. These critiques have led to improvements of the measure and the way it is scored, as well as the tempering of early claims and the creation of new measurement procedures. That’s the way a healthy science progresses. As a result of criticism, the IAT is one of the best-understood psychological measures in use by social scientists.

The ConversationEven if it were to turn out that our current measures of implicit bias are problematic, that would have little bearing on whether or not implicit bias exists. Mental links between social groups and evaluations and attributes are real. Bias exists. And while learning about implicit bias can be an important step in initiating behavior change for some people, there is no published evidence that awareness alone is an antidote to the influence of implicit bias. To see a reduction in bias-based disparity, it is essential that we develop and implement empirically tested interventions – specific tools we can use to produce egalitarian behavior.

Kate Ratliff, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Florida and Colin Smith, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

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