Twelve students at the University of Maryland at College Park were arrested by campus police yesterday for erecting a shanty to protest the university's $7.1 million investment in firms doing business in segregated South Africa.

The students were arrested without incident on charges of "willful disturbance of school activities" and were released on personal recognizance.

The protest against South Africa's apartheid policy of racial segregation was organized by the University Divestment Coalition and is designed as part of a national campaign to pressure businesses operating in that country. The protest is similar to those waged recently by students at colleges across the country, including Yale University, where 73 students and five others were arrested Monday when they refused to leave a shantytown erected on the campus.

The Maryland students constructed the shanty about 11:30 a.m. yesterday after university Chancellor John Slaughter had refused in a meeting to grant permission to build the structure.

Last Friday, William L. Thomas, vice chancellor for student affairs, ordered two other shanties torn down. University officials said coalition members had been sleeping in the shanties.

"I feel probably more strongly about apartheid than most students, but I have an overriding concern for the safety and security of members of the campus community," Slaughter said yesterday after the students were arrested and the shanty was dismantled by a university maintenance crew.

Coalition member Mary Battenfeld vowed to build another shanty and to continue the protest. "We are here to educate people about apartheid," she said. "If that's not the business of the campus, I don't know what is."

After the shanty was completed, about 100 students joined hands and began to chant and sing.

After the arrests, the remaining students at the shanty site marched across the campus to the administration building and met with Slaughter, who reiterated that the shanties would not be allowed, campus spokeswoman Roz Hiebert said.

Coalition member Leonard Sanford Jr., a senior government major, filed a $100,000 civil suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore against university officials to protest the dismantling of the shanties last week.