University of Maryland police on Monday were investigating as a possible hate crime what appeared to be a noose hanging in a tree near a building that houses several black campus groups.

The rope was found between the student union and the Nyumburu Cultural Center, where organizations that include the Black Faculty and Staff Association and the Black Explosion newspaper are based.

"We are starting out with the assumption that it was a hate crime," campus police spokesman Paul Dillon said Monday.

Witnesses reported seeing the 3-foot-long rope Thursday. The rope had a 3-inch-diameter noose tied at one end and was reportedly 10 to 12 feet up in the tree, Dillon said.

The rope was destroyed by campus maintenance workers before police had a chance to see it, Dillon said. But the department has photos and several witness accounts.

The rope may have been in the tree for as long as two weeks, he said.

University President C.D. Mote Jr. said in a weekend statement over the weekend that the discovery was "of great concern."

"The possibility that this act appears intended to bring to mind the horrific crime of lynching, which is such a terrible and tragic part of our nation's past, is particularly abhorrent," Mote said.