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UMN students call for divestment at Regents meeting

At the Board of Regents meeting May 9-10, students and community members urged the University of Minnesota to divest from Israeli and weapons manufacturing companies while others opposed divestment.
The annual operating budget showed up to a 6% increase in tuition rates for students.
Image by Alex Lassiter
The annual operating budget showed up to a 6% increase in tuition rates for students.

At the Board of Regents meeting May 10, community members raised concerns about the University of Minnesota’s complicity in the genocide in Gaza through its investments in Israel and weapons manufacturing companies, while others shared fears about increasing anti-semitic rhetoric on campus. 

On May 9, administrators presented the annual operating budget for the fiscal year 2025, which saw an increase in tuition and compensation, and the board reviewed proposed changes to student service fee exemptions. 

Public Forum and Student Representatives

The public forum was an opportunity for the community to voice their concerns about the recommended operating budget, according to Board Chair Janie Mayeron. There were 18 speakers and each had three minutes to speak. 

Sixteen community members, mostly students, at the public forum urged the University to divest from Israeli companies and weapons manufacturers to better align with student values. Students referenced past divestments from companies, like the South African apartheid in 1985 and the Darfur genocide in Sudan in 2007. 

Students said they love the University community and the education they are receiving but were ashamed about the University’s complicity in war crimes and the arrest of student protestors on April 23. 

Nate Wulver, an undergraduate individualized studies student, said the current budget does not reflect the values of diversity, equity and education.

“I am really concerned by the fact that it feels like the money I am paying as a student for tuition is currently going towards human suffering as opposed to bettering the world,”  Wolver said 

Donia Abu, a fourth-year student with family in Gaza, said she was disgusted that the University budget is being used to kill her family and people in Palestine. 

“Twelve members of my family have been senselessly murdered by the Israeli regime,” Abu said. “For the past seven months, I have had to witness photos of my family’s injuries and their charred bodies circulate on the internet.” 

Abu criticized the University’s use of students of color to portray an image of diversity and inclusion but bullies and arrests them when they demand the University listen to their concerns.

A student was threatened with arrest by a University police officer for trying to enter the board meeting, according to Mira Altobell-Resendez, an access specialist at the Disability Resource Center and the staff member arrested on April 23. 

Student representatives from UMN Divest Coalition and Minnesota Hillel were given an opportunity to share their concerns about the University’s current ties to the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

The students from the UMN Divest Coalition continued the same sentiments from the public forum asking the University to divest from war manufacturing companies, such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and continue increasing its transparency around investments.

“No student should have to grapple with the fact that the University they attend is invested in the suffering of their own people,” said Gracelyn McClure, a fourth-year student and member of Students for Climate Justice. 

After the UMN Divest Coalition representatives finished speaking, students and other community members who had packed the board room cheered. 

Charlie Maloney, the incoming student president for Minnesota Hillel, the Jewish Student Center on campus, said he did not want to be at the Board meeting to fight and defend Jewish identities or explain the Jewish connection to Israel, but that he had been forced to do so. 

“The last seven months have been scary for most Jewish students,” Maloney said. “Even though most of us have sadly been desensitized to harmful and anti-Israel rhetoric on campus, this year has been filled with more hatred targeting Jewish students based on our identities than ever before.” 

Students laughed after Maloney said Jewish voices and histories were being erased and replaced by token Jewish voices and Hamas propaganda. He added  Hillel and other Jewish organizations provide students the opportunity to engage with Israel and have productive dialogue around the conflict in Gaza. However, he said the University is not providing space for this type of engagement. 

Alex Stewart, the student president for Hillel, said UMN Divest and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) engaged in anti-semitic behavior several times in recent years. 

According to Stewart, SJP ran a campaign in 2017 called Skip the Trip which targeted and harassed Jewish students on campus who were interested in participating in educational trips to Israel. She also referenced the Vote No campaign launched by UMN Divest after a referendum on the all campuses ballot asked if the University should define anti-semitism. 

Maloney said the University should not heed the calls for divestment. 

“We will continue to work with you and others as we try to work through these very important, complicated and volatile issues for our University, for the nation and for the world at large,” Mayeron said. 

No action on the competing calls has been taken yet.

Student Service Fees

Calvin Phillips, the vice president for student affairs, and Julie Tonneson, the interim senior vice president for finance and operations presented the Board of Regents Policy Tuition and Fees review of proposed amendments, which has not been updated in 10 years. 

Student service fees are a separate cost from tuition that students taking six or more credits during the spring and fall semesters must pay to access services like the RecWell Center and health and wellness services. Students taking three or more credits for the summer semester are required to pay the fees. 

These fees are not based on individual student interest or usage, according to Phillips. 

Those exempt from paying student service fees are non-degree-seeking students, high school students and students taking fully online or mid-career programs, Phillips said. 

Phillips recommended revising the criteria for charging fees to students by removing the exclusion of off-campus distance courses and excluding students studying abroad for a full semester. 

These changes were made based on the students’ relationship with campus and their need for community support and wellness services, Phillips said. 

Niko Vasilopoulous, a third-year student representative, said he appreciated the proposed exemption of study abroad students to the student service fees policy. 

“Being a Carlson student, as was mentioned earlier, who’s required to study abroad, I really want to appreciate adding the exemption for students,” Vasilopoulos said. “That makes a lot of sense and I know a lot of students are really going to be happy with that decision.” 

Annual Operating Budget 

According to Tonneson, the University is projected to receive $4.8 billion in revenue to cover $4.7 billion in anticipated expenses for the next fiscal year (FY). 

The budget focused on providing fair pay for faculty, staff and student employees with a 3% increase. 

“Even though it’s less than we originally planned, the proposed increase for FY25 exceeds what we have been able to provide in most years since FY11,” Tonneson said. 

FY11 had a 2% general increase in compensation, and over the last 12 years there have been two freezes, Tonneson said. The 3% increase exceeds previous investments in employee compensation with the exception of  FY23 and FY24, which saw increases of 3.85% and 3.75% respectively. 

The core mission budget request to the legislature was not approved, which resulted in reduced services and programs and increased tuition, according to Interim President Jeff Ettinger. 

Tuition will increase by 4.5% for graduate and undergraduate resident students and 5.5% for graduate and undergraduate nonresident students on the Twin Cities campuses in 2025, Tonneson said. The tuition increase is projected to bring $42.2 million in revenue. 

“We have difficult decisions ahead of us and going forward we will continue to urge our state partners to support adequate and increased funding,” Ettinger said. 

A final decision on the recommended changes to student service feels and the annual operating budget will be made at the board meeting June 13-14.

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  • Ben Becker
    May 17, 2024 at 8:41 pm

    It’s not a genocide. It’s a—justified—response to an act of war. Please be more responsible in your framing of this conflict. It’s incumbent on you to understand the words you use.

  • Thomas
    May 15, 2024 at 7:11 pm

    “Students laughed after Maloney said Jewish voices and histories were being erased and replaced by token Jewish voices and Hamas propaganda.”

    If this had been directed at any other student group the offenders would have been expelled and these losers would literally never stop talking about it and refer to it as a hate crime.

    I’m sick of allowing these sanctimonious pricks to threaten everyone else on campus with their idiotic demands. It’s absolutely outrageous that their behavior is tolerated. But we all know why it is…