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On Wednesday morning, the University of Michigan Board of Regents scheduled a special meeting for Friday morning to vote on whether to censure one of their own, Regent Ron Weiser (R). Though a censure would signal that the Board condemns Weiser’s actions and deems him unfit for office, it is largely a symbolic move. No public commenters will be allowed at the meeting.
Ahead of this unusual meeting, The Michigan Daily explains how the administration has reached this point by recapping various controversies Weiser has been embroiled in throughout the semester as well as listing those who have criticized or called for Weiser’s resignation thus far.
What has happened over the past few months?
Friday, Jan. 8: University community members called for Weiser’s resignation in a petition and open letter, due to his failure to specifically denounce former President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riots in an interview with Bridge Michigan.
Wednesday, Feb. 3: The Daily reported that Weiser sent emails to fellow regents comparing their silence amid calls for his resignation to “Germany in the 1930s,” describing graduate student protesters as “hired union hacks” and sending a message with only a picture of a bikini-clad woman.
Thursday, Feb. 4: Weiser was accused by former Michigan GOP Chair Laura Cox of making undisclosed payments of $200,000 to a former candidate for secretary of state in hopes he would withdraw his candidacy. Weiser has denied these accusations.
Saturday, Feb. 6: For a third non-consecutive term, Weiser was elected chair of the Michigan Republican Party despite Cox’s accusations. He won more than 66% of the vote during the 2021 virtual MI GOP convention.
Thursday, March 25: At a meeting of the North Oakland Republican Club, Weiser referred to presumably Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson as “the three witches” and made a comment about burning them at the stake. He also referenced “assassination” when discussing the reelection of two Michigan Republican Congressmen who voted to impeach Trump in January.
For more information on past controversies surrounding Weiser, read The Michigan Daily’s fact or fiction analysis from February.
What has Weiser’s response been?
In response to the criticism of his response to the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, Weiser told Bridge Michigan on January 7 he had undergone oral surgery earlier in the day and so was not aware of the situation in the Capitol when he was first contacted by the media.
Weiser has made no public statements about his inappropriate emails to other regents.
When accused of making undisclosed payments, Weiser denied the claims and said he did not violate any law.
“Laura Cox’s baseless allegations are a desperate attempt to smear my name, based on a longstanding political grudge, and her inability to hold onto the job of party chair that she could not keep on her own merits,” Weiser wrote. “I’m disappointed by Laura’s shameful attempt to destroy our party with unfounded and reckless conspiracy theories so that she can get back in the chair’s race and save her paycheck.”
While initially defending his comments about Whitmer, Nessel, Benson and Reps. Fred Upton (R) and Peter Meijer (R), Weiser said they were taken “out of context.” He later released a more apologetic statement on March 27 saying he would be “part of a respectful political dialogue going forward.”
Weiser deleted his personal Twitter account earlier this week and his email was removed from the University Board of Regents website.
What could happen moving forward?
Because Weiser is an elected official, in order for him to be recalled from office, Benson would have to file an official petition. No later than 25 days following the filing of the petition, Benson would then have to declare if the petition has enough signatures for a recall or not. To trigger a recall election, the number of signatures on the petition needs to equal 25% of votes cast by Michigan residents in the 2020 general election.
As of Wednesday, who has called for Weiser’s resignation?
Four University Regents
Regents Jordan Acker (D), Mark Bernstein (D), Michael Behm (D) and Paul Brown (D) have all issued statements urging Weiser to resign. Despite criticism from the University community of Weiser for months, Weiser’s fellow regents had not previously criticized him publicly.
“So, particularly at this moment in our history when such extreme rhetoric from too many political leaders has sewn deep division in society, hurt individuals, and threatened our democracy, I can only come to the conclusion that any official, including Regent Weiser, who would unrepentantly engage in such speech should not remain in public office, especially at an institution like the University of Michigan, which so values upholding gender equality and protection of women’s rights,” Brown wrote in his statement.
The Lecturers’ Employee Organization
LEO, a union representing lecturers who work at the University’s three campuses, demanded Weiser resign from the Board of Regents in a public statement issued Wednesday.
The group expressed concern over Weiser’s history of controversial behavior but said his most recent comments at the North Oakland Republican Club meeting were particularly problematic.
“The threats of violence towards five democratically elected officials are particularly abhorrent and have no place in a university dedicated to the open pursuit of ideas,” LEO said in their statement. “In addition, Mr. Weiser’s misogynistic statements about the top three elected officials of Michigan directly violate the University’s core commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
If Weiser refuses to resign, LEO requests that the University remove Weiser from all Regent activities and remove his name from any University buildings — he is currently the namesake of the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies, housed in Weiser Hall, due to his numerous donations to the University.
The Graduate Employees’ Organization
GEO first called for Weiser to resign in their Michigan Daily op-ed from February 1, which said Weiser should step down “due to his fundamental conflicts of interest and immoral conduct regarding the Capitol riot.”
GEO criticized Weiser’s recent comments in a tweet on March 26.
“Bad look Regent Weiser!” GEO said in a retweet of the breaking news about Weiser’s misogynistic and violent comments.
Political opponents and public officials
The Michigan Democratic Party released a statement demanding Weiser resign as regent in a March 26 tweet. Whitmer, Nessel and Benson — all of whom were assumed to be referenced in Weiser’s most recent comments — tweeted or released statements in response.
State Rep. Donna Lasinski, D-Novi, Michigan House Democratic leader, called on Weiser to resign from the University Board of Regents in a letter to regents Wednesday. Five other state representatives and one additional state senator — including State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, and state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor — signed the letter, which was written on behalf of all Democratic legislators in the Michigan House of Representatives.
“Ron Weiser’s sexist and markedly dangerous comments are not only terribly inappropriate, they also serve to damage the reputation of the University of Michigan. His choice of words and actions have betrayed the trust that was given to him when he was elected to the University of Michigan Board of Regents,” the letter reads. “As a collective body of elected officials, we officially call on Ron Weiser to resign immediately from the University of Michigan Board of Regents.”
The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs
SACUA released a statement Monday criticizing Weiser’s use of sexist and violent language, calling his comments “a betrayal of the trust our community — students, faculty and staff — places on Regent Weiser.” While the statement does not explicitly call for Weiser to resign, it implies it by questioning his role as a leader on campus.
“SACUA believes strongly and without any hesitation that Regent Weiser cannot be an effective leader in our community,” the statement reads.
Central Student Government
In a statement released Monday, former Central Student Government President and Vice President Amanda Kaplan and Saveri Nandigama, alongside current President and Vice President Nithya Arun and Carla Voigt, called on the rest of the regents to denounce Weiser’s actions and call for his resignation.
“We stand with the six women deans, and their allies, who released a statement yesterday condemning Regent Weiser’s actions,” the statement reads. “We urge the remaining members of the Board of Regents to also condemn his remarks and join their peers in calling for his resignation. We deserve better.”
U-M community members created a petition following the Jan. 6 Capitol riots calling for Weiser’s resignation, which has garnered over 6,300 signatures as of April 1. The petition was updated on March 26 with Weiser’s recent comments.
“This sexist, violent rhetoric has no place at the University of Michigan or amongst its leadership,” the petition says. “We loudly reaffirm our demand that he resign, and we expect President Schlissel to condemn this threat to all students of color on campus.”
Faculty open letter
Hundreds of faculty signed an open letter released in early January that asked Weiser to resign due to his involvement in the Michigan GOP and initial failure to respond to the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. The letter states that Weiser’s role as GOP chair is directly at odds with his duties as regent.
“In sum, the MI-GOP’s current political program depends on empowering factions and candidates that seek to impede or even overturn basic democratic principles, that seek to exclude Black, Indigenous, and other non-white residents from political participation, and that pursue their political goals without regard to truth, honesty, or integrity,” the letter reads. “You have to choose between supporting the University of Michigan and supporting the darkest factions of US political life. You cannot do both.”
Eight former regents
Eight former regents signed a letter Thursday calling on Weiser to resign, saying they were “appalled to hear” that Weiser had advocated for violence and used misogynistic language when referring to Whitmer, Nessel and Benson. The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily, states that while the First Amendment guarantees right to freedom of speech, it does not excuse violent language.
“That doesn’t mean that if he believes that he is free to denigrate women
with whom he disagrees by calling them ‘witches’ and if he encourages assassination as a way to deal with honorable men of his own party with whom he disagrees he should retain the privilege of remaining a fiduciary for a great university,” the letter reads. “That is why we are joining many others in calling for his resignation.”
Who has condemned Weiser’s statements but stopped short of calling for resignation?
Regent Denise Ilitch (D)
In an email to The Daily, Regent Denise Ilitch (D) expressed disappointment over Weiser’s recent statements but did not call for his resignation.
“Despite any differences among its eight members elected by the State’s voters, we have worked constructively on advancing the institution without destructive politics getting in the way,” Ilitch said. “That is why it is so disturbing to learn of the repugnant language used by a member of our Board when addressing a political group. His use of violent imagery crosses a line that is inconsistent with what should be our shared values. There should be no place for physical threats by elected or political leaders on our Board or in our State.”
University President Mark Schlissel
Schlissel issued a statement Saturday condemning Weiser’s remarks, though he did not call for his resignation. Schlissel has not previously criticized Weiser’s controversial actions.
“Such words are particularly abhorrent in a climate where so recently the use of language has engendered violence and attempted violence directed at elected officials, our democratic institutions, and the individuals who guard them,” Schlissel’s statement said. “It is never appropriate to raise the specter of assassination or perpetuate misogynistic stereotypes against anyone in any setting. Elected officials must adhere to a higher standard regardless of the context of their remarks.”
In an interview with The Daily Jan. 20, when asked about the faculty letter and Weiser’s initial response to the events of Jan. 6, Schlissel referenced his own statement on behalf of the University condemning the violence and emphasized that all regents are elected by a statewide vote.
Schlissel did not then criticize Weiser, either implicitly or explicitly.
“I’ve known Regent Weiser practically since I arrived here,” Schlissel said. “He has lived locally, and he’s a major donor to the University. I know for sure that his affections for the University run deep… So, I think that the many faculty and students in the community and others that have objections are raising those objections, they’re getting lots of coverage in the media, and those fall into the political process. It’ll have to be worked out, but I can say that the University itself, as well as all the regents, unambiguously condemn the violence and those that incited the violence. That’s not a matter of question.”
Six U-M Women Deans
All six U-M deans who are women wrote a letter on March 28 condemning Weiser’s comments. The letter was signed by LSA Dean Anne Curzan, School of Nursing Dean Patricia Hurn, School of Dentistry Dean Laurie McCauley, School of Education Dean Elizabeth Birr Moje, School of Kinesiology Dean Lori Ploutz-Snyder and School of Social Work Dean Lynn Videka. All 13 additional deans signed the letter in solidarity.
“We feel strongly that your comments do not support the university’s and our units’ values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice,” the letter reads. “Nor do your comments support robust civil debate and democratic engagement. The latter point is particularly saddening and ironic because you have been a champion of democratic values through institutions you have supported on our campus.”
Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit
Savit called Weiser’s comments “misogynistic and violent” in a tweet on March 26.
LSA Student Government
LSA Student Government passed a resolution on March 30 condemning Weiser for his comments. The resolution says Weiser’s partisan affiliation did not play into their criticism, and that “his words and actions remain our focus.”
It also mentions his controversial connection to Maddock and the revealing photo sent to the Board of Regents as reasons for the condemnation.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Daily News Editor Emma Ruberg and Daily Staff Reporter Martha Lewand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org an email@example.com.