Arrestees ask U to drop charges

Kevin McCahill

Under the eyes of one uniformed police officer, five students on trial for trespassing outside University President Bob Bruininks’ office called a news conference Thursday on the steps of Morrill Hall, asking for leniency in their charges.

Standing alongside numerous supporters, the students formally asked University officials to drop the charges, for which county prosecutors are seeking the maximum penalties. The students face a maximum fine of $1,000 and 90 days in jail. Their trial is set for Monday.

The students, along with approximately 12 others, held a sit-in May 4 at Morrill Hall in reaction to plans of closing the General College. Nine students were arrested and charged with trespassing after refusing to leave the building. Four of those charged entered plea bargains earlier in the summer.

Political science junior Rus Lyons was arrested at the sit-in. He said he hopes the charges will be dropped or reduced.

“We know the University is capable of taking the higher ground,” he said. “We hope they are better than they are acting so far.”

University officials are quick to point out that the fate of the students rests in the hands of the County Attorney’s Office.

“The University does not prosecute crimes,” said Mark Rotenberg, general counsel of the University.

“We expect people to be respectful of University property,” he said.

Rotenberg said officials spent hours talking with students about the effects of their protest.

The protesters made a choice to stay in the building with a full understanding of the consequences, Rotenberg said.

“It isn’t the University trying to make an example of these people,” he said. “They made the choice themselves.”

Rotenberg said University officials will continue to follow the case.

Some students said the charges were too harsh.

“They had to get them out of the building, but that is a little severe,” said chemical engineering senior Derek Andreasen.

Civil engineering senior Jens Frederickson agreed.

“That is way too strict,” he said. “We are supposed to voice our opinions.”

As part of a five-year realignment plan with the University, General College will be integrated into the new College of Education and Human Development. The plan aims to turn the University into one of the top three research facilities in the world.

This goal has led some to believe that non-research-based students are losing their place.

“This is a plan to create an elitist University less accessible to working-class Minnesotans,” said Brad Sigal, a member of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800, whose president, Phyllis Walker, was charged with obstruction of justice at the sit-in.

Faced with the possibility of jail time, students are not backing down.

“We have every right (to be here),” urban planning senior Dan Gordon, one of the arrested, said. “I feel proud. I know we are doing the right thing.”