The University of Minnesota has quietly dropped its investigation of student protesters accused of disrupting a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Coffman Union in March.
The investigation had triggered a protest of its own among faculty members who argued the U was trying to crush dissent.
In April, the university notified nine students that they could face disciplinary action, up to possible expulsion, for violating the student code of conduct at the March 12 demonstration.
But on Monday, the U sent them follow-up letters, saying it “has decided not to pursue the disciplinary charges.”
The letters, from the office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, said that it was dropping the cases because the incident “while unfortunate, presents relatively low-level behavioral concerns at a time of strain on University resources.”
It went on to admonish the students that “the right to free speech does not give students the right to disrupt events on campus.”
Rahsaan Mahadeo, a doctoral candidate in sociology who was one of the students, said he wasn’t surprised by the decision to drop the charges. “It was evident, I think, for most of the general public that the university had really stuck its foot in its mouth and had to backtrack,” he said.
At the March event, which was held to celebrate a $2.5 million renovation of the student center, several dozen demonstrators picketed and chanted to protest what they called a pattern of racism at the university. The protesters argued that the renovation had pushed several minority student organizations out of their previous offices and destroyed a historic mural of the 1969 takeover of Morrill Hall by black student activists.
The university said it began its investigation after receiving complaints about some of the protesters, who were identified through photos. At that point, the university said students would be given an opportunity to respond to the charges.
In early May, news of the investigation prompted dozens of faculty members to send letters to the U, demanding that they, too, be disciplined, in solidarity with the protesters. They also called on the U to drop the investigation, saying the students were involved in a peaceful protest.
“It was a powerful statement,” said Mahadeo. “We do feel like they made a really significant impact.”
On Tuesday, Bruce Nestor, a Minneapolis lawyer representing the students, said the university “is backtracking from a bad decision.”
At the same time, he criticized campus officials for continuing to assert that a violation occurred, even while dropping the charges. “Perhaps the U just has too many bureaucrats with nothing really to do,” he said.