Faculty supporting students facing discipline over Coffman protest

University of Minnesota students accused of disrupting a March 12 ribbon-cutting ceremony on campus are receiving some faculty support.

Sociology grad student Rahsaan Mahadeo  says he and a few dozen students and faculty were protesting the U’s handling of diversity. Some shouted questions during the ceremony at Coffman Memorial Union.

“We were exercising our right to freedom of speech, and freedom of peaceful assembly,” he said.

Nine students ended up receiving disciplinary letters from the U threatening possible sanctions.

Sociology professor David Pellow says the students were peacefully voicing concern over how the U was handling ethnic diversity — and says the U’s disciplinary letters were an overreaction.

Pellow says he has written a letter asking campus leaders to sanction him too — since he would have taken part had he known about the demonstration. He says a few dozen other faculty members have signed a similar group letter.

“This is something that shouldn’t be viewed as a prank or as a stunt,” he said, “but is an effort by faculty to stand with our student colleagues and to say, ‘This is a really important issue.'”

University spokesman Steve Henneberry said in an emailed statement that the students received standard letters sent to anyone suspected of violating the conduct code.

“While they may discipline students who are found responsible for violating the Student Conduct Code,” he wrote, “ultimately, they seek to help students learn from the choices they make.”

He also wrote that faculty who wrote individual letters have been informed that the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity “doesn’t have jurisdiction to charge them with any violations of the Student Conduct Code (which applies only to students).”