U of M encampment disbanded after protesters reached agreement with school officials

U of M encampment disbanded after protesters reached agreement with school officials

The University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus was quiet Thursday after protesters urging the school to cut financial ties with Israel reached an agreement with the university.

Pro-Palestinian protesters marched through campus Monday before setting up a tent camp at Northrop Mall. Those tents were taken down Thursday morning, and around noon the school reopened 12 academic buildings that had been closed all week.

Members of the UMN Divest coalition met with interim U of M President Jeff Ettinger for an hour and a half on Wednesday to discuss their demands, and there were cheers in the camp when university officials sent a letter outlining a compromise.

As part of the agreement, student coalition members will meet with the Board of Regents on May 10. Students add that one more item is promised: biweekly meetings between some protest organizers and university leaders.

The student coalition also said they will not stage any disruptions at upcoming finals and commencements.

“They have agreed to allow Students for Justice in Palestine and the UMN Divest coalition to remain part of the negotiations until divestment occurs. That means they are committed to a path to divestment, with us at the table to ensure they don’t back down,” said Fae, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota and a member of the Students for Democratic Society.

Students who organized the protest are calling this a victory and saying they are cautiously optimistic that the university will keep their promises to divest from Israel, although the extent of their financial ties abroad remains unclear.

A university spokesperson said Thursday that the school has “very little direct business or investment in Israel or Palestine.”

“While there is still more work to be done and discussions are still planned with other student groups affected by the painful situation in Palestine, I am encouraged by today’s progress,” Ettinger said. “It was born out of a desire among those involved to reach shared understanding. While we do not condone tactics that fall outside our policies, we appreciate student leaders’ willingness to engage in dialogue. I appreciate the challenging and healthy conversations we have had.”

Not everyone was happy with the agreement. After their own meeting with U of M administrators, members of Hillel and the Jewish Community Relations Council say they have not been invited to speak to regents and raised concerns about hate speech on campus.

“Something that was discussed in depth was an educational program that educated students on the fine line between free speech and hate speech,” said Halle Wasserman, a sophomore at U of M.

The JCRC issued a statement Thursday saying it is “frustrated” by U of M leadership’s lack of dialogue with Jewish student groups and urging Ettinger to “use his voice to condemn anti-Semitism on campus and to confront, inside and outside the classroom.”

“The university’s capitulation sends the message that students who violate UofM policies, openly celebrate violence and close the campus will be rewarded with regents time and ‘regular meetings moving forward’ with the president’s office,” the organization wrote. “In contrast, students targeted by anti-Semitism are apparently made to suffer in silence while their university appeases the very activists who demonize Jews and Israelis.”

The tents are gone for now, but Thursday evening protesters say they will hold the U accountable.

‘If the university somehow withdraws from the agreement, we will be right back with our tents. We are going to escalate even further,” said Sasmit Rahmin, a former U of M student.

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The protest at the U of M was one of several held at universities across the country. At the University of California, Los Angeles, hundreds of protesters defied orders to leave, some forming human chains as police removed barricades and demolished an encampment near the school. More than 130 people were arrested at the school, according to California Highway Patrol officials.

Other protests were held at the University of Texas at Dallas, Yale, Portland State University in Oregon, Northwestern University in Chicago and Brown University in Rhode Island.

President Joe Biden sounded off on the protests late Thursday morning, saying “order must prevail” and rejecting calls from student demonstrators to change his approach to the war in Gaza.

RELATED: Biden says ‘order must prevail’ during campus protests over Gaza war

Last week, nine protesters at the U of M were arrested for trespassing after setting up tents and refusing to take them down when police asked.