Legislators debate whether to help U of M pay for costs associated with anti-Israel camp

A Republican legislator said U of M staff estimate more than $1 million in damage repair and related costs stemming from protest activities.

U of M
An encampment established at the University of Minnesota by pro-Palestinian demonstrators was disassembled after university leadership struck a deal with protesters. (UMN Watchdog/X)

It’s been less than a week since a group of anti-Israel activists on the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus packed up their tents and provisions and ended their encampment protest on Northrop Mall.

And now come the questions: How much was the damage incurred by the boycott/divestment/sanctions protesters? Who will pay for it?

Members of the Minnesota House of Representatives debated that topic on Friday during discussion on how the legislature should appropriate a half-million budget target to the public higher education system across the state.

bill being carried by the DFL majority in the House would spend $500,000 in allocated supplemental higher education funding for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to participate in the “Kids on Campus” initiative in partnership with Head Start. That appropriation would create a new administration position to aid MNSCU college campuses in assessing whether there are additional childcare needs among their respective student populations that are not yet being met.

Republicans contend that public school campuses and their surrounding communities already have childcare resources available to parents enrolled in classes. Instead, they want to spend that money on what they believe is a more immediate, apparent need.

One legislator, Rep. Kristin Robbins, R-Maple Grove, suggested that the half-million dollars should be used to help cover costs of “the vandalism and repair, and the police costs of dealing with the encampments” on the U of M’s East Bank campus that ended last Thursday.

“I have spoken to people at the [University of Minnesota] and they think [the total costs] will be north of $1 million,” Robbins said, as she offered an amendment on the House floor Friday to allocate the already earmarked half-million dollars to the encampment-related costs. “So this won’t even cover [all of the estimated costs], but there is a lot of vandalism, including etched into the marble pillars that says ‘Death to America.'”

Robbins’ amendment failed on a divided voice vote that appeared to fall on mostly party lines, with DFL legislators, including Rep. Nathan Coulter, of Bloomington, expressing opposition.

“We heard a member of this body a minute ago say the state of Minnesota does not need to fund [protesters’] bad behavior,” Coulter said. “That’s exactly what this amendment would do.”

Rep. Kristin Robbins, R-Maple Grove, discusses her amendment on the House floor Friday. (Minnesota House Info/YouTube)

“I also received information from the University of Minnesota and Hamline University, both schools in Minnesota, as was mentioned, that had both peaceful demonstrations that are no longer taking place. The number I received back from the university was significantly less than what was just cited [by Rep. Robbins].”

When pressed for more details, Coulter said staff at the U of M’s office of government relations — led by former DFL legislator Melisa Lopez Franzen — told him their estimates were much lower: $50,000. But Coulter quickly added the numbers he received from Lopez Franzen’s office were for the “cleanup with regards to the demonstrations” that took place, and not other additional estimated costs.

Alpha News has reached out to communications staff with the university with a request for more details on the costs related to property damage, cleanup and police resources, but has not yet received a reply.

U of M agreed it would not arrest encampment participants

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said she was skeptical about providing the $500,000 to aid the university in its cleanup and damage repair costs “because we are not punishing [the protesters’] bad behavior.” She was referring to an agreement that University of Minnesota Interim President Jeff Ettinger made with people who were involved in the protest, which states that no one involved would be charged with crimes if the encampment ended by Thursday.

“[The U of M] allowed these students and agitators to cause destruction, to cause disruption, to shut down classes, to close down buildings, and the university didn’t do their due diligence to shut it down [sooner],” Scott said.

Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, said he too wishes that those who caused the damage and disruption to campus would be made liable for restitution. But the fifth-term legislator said many of his constituents in greater Minnesota who are alumni or have children who attend the U of M Twin Cities campus want to see the damage repaired as soon as possible.

“I believe the [University of Minnesota] and their leadership have not handled this process correctly,” Backer said. “But now these individuals have damaged properties, and we need to make sure that property state-owned shows well to the public, whether that’s international students, if it’s alumni when they come back to visit, or students [and staff] on campus.”


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.