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The Board of Regents voted 5-0-2 Friday morning to censure Regent Ron Weiser (R) for misogynistic and hateful remarks he made to the North Oakland Republic Club on March 25. Chairwoman Denise Ilitch (D) also removed Weiser from his committee assignments at the meeting.
Weiser came under fire for calling the state’s top Democrats — presumably Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson — “witches” and referencing the assassination of two Michigan Republican Congressmen who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump. Though he at first repeatedly downplayed his comments, after a steady stream of officials criticized his remarks or called for his resignation, Weiser apologized in a March 27 statement in which he committed to being “part of a respectful political dialogue going forward.”
Regent Katherine White (D) was not at the meeting due to her service in the National Guard and did not vote. All other Regents, including Weiser, were present at the meeting, but Weiser and Regent Sarah Hubbard (R) abstained from voting.
Ilitch put forth a resolution “condemn(ing) in the strongest possible language the behavior of Regent Weiser, his language, and the actions taken therein, and call(ing) on Regent Weiser to resign from the Board of Regents forthwith.”
After Ilitch introduced the resolution, Weiser commented on it, apologizing for his comments while rejecting calls to resign.
“I take full responsibility for what I said,” Weiser said. “I agree with part of this resolution, but I will not resign… I will not be canceled.”
In his remarks, Regent Jordan Acker (D), vice chair of the Board, gave a statement in which he echoed earlier concerns lambasting Weiser’s conduct.
“I believe in forgiveness for you and anyone else,” Acker said. “But there is no room on this Board for those who advocate violence. Make no mistake: That is precisely what you did. You have forced this Board to take this painful and permanent step, to condemn one of our own.”
Weiser’s conduct has sparked multiple controversies during the winter semester. After Weiser declined to condemn then-President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, members of the U-M community launched a petition calling for Weiser’s resignation. In response, Weiser emailed his fellow regents for support, imploring them to “Remember Germany in the 1930’s.”
Though some U-M students and faculty have called for Weiser’s resignation since January, last week marked the first time some Regents and University President Mark Schlissel have publicly criticized Weiser.
Prior to Friday’s meeting, Regents Acker, Mark Bernstein (D), Mike Behm (D) and Paul Brown (D) have previously urged Weiser to resign. Other members of the board, including Ilitch and Schlissel, were highly critical of Weiser’s remarks but stopped short of calling for his resignation. Eight former Regents called on Weiser to resign in a statement released Thursday.
In a prepared statement to the board, Acker repeated his belief that Weiser should no longer serve as a regent.
“I hope that you will take steps to fix the damage you’ve caused to our community, to our campuses, to our board,” Acker said. “But that requires real contrition and acknowledgment of what you did wrong, and then listening to those you’ve wronged. It is impossible for you to do so while remaining on this board. You have lost all credibility and moral leadership.”
In the middle of Acker’s remarks, Weiser turned his camera off and made no other comments. It is unclear if he left the meeting at some point or if he simply did not turn his camera back on for the remainder of it.
After the meeting, Acker put out tweets further criticizing Weiser for his remarks and for leaving the meeting.
Hubbard was critical of Weiser’s words but did not call for his resignation as other members did.
“I do not agree with the language used by Regent Weiser in reference to any public official,” Hubbard said. “I look forward to getting back to addressing the important issues facing the University, such as the need to constantly strive for academic excellence and focusing on student needs.”
A first for one of the Regents, Ilitch claimed Weiser’s position as chair of the Michigan Republican Party was a conflict of interest with his responsibilities as a member of the board. Faculty argued this in January with their open letter calling on Weiser to resign.
“We must always represent and serve the University as long as we are in office,” Ilitch said. “It has become clear that serving as chair of a statewide political party is simply not compatible with serving on this board.”
Weiser, a significant donor to the Republican Party, is currently chairman of the Michigan GOP and previously served as chairman from 2009-2011 and 2017-2019. Weiser was elected to the Board of Regents in 2016, unseating incumbent Regent Laurence Deitch (D). He served as Chair of the board from 2019 to 2020, when he was the only Republican member.
Friday’s meeting was the first Regents meeting Weiser has attended in 2021. According to Weiser’s March 25 comments as well as a source close to the board, Weiser missed at least two meetings to attend to Republican Party activities.
In a March 28 letter, six female deans condemned Weiser’s statement, with the other 14 deans signing the letter in solidarity.
The Lecturers’ Employee Organization and the Graduate Employees’ Organization released statements March 31 calling for Weiser’s resignation and for the regents to remove Weiser’s name from U-M buildings if he does not resign.
“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.”
The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs also released a statement April 1 regarding Weiser’s conduct, saying “SACUA believes strongly and without any hesitation that Regent Weiser cannot be an effective leader in our community.” 1800 faculty members have signed onto the SACUA statement.
The special meeting also did not provide time for public comment. In June 2020, when the board voted to approve the controversial fiscal year 2021 budget without public comment, questions surrounded the legality of omitting public comments. Before that meeting, University Secretary Sally Jo Churchill told The Michigan Daily the policy only applies to regularly scheduled meetings.
Under Michigan Open Meetings Law, a public body may determine the manner in which public comments are delivered, but that body must allow members of the public to address the meeting. Board policy does not mention special meetings, and in the past, the board has used its discretion to hold meetings it designates as “informal” behind closed doors. That practice was upheld by the Michigan Court of Appeals in 2016, though the board has not referred to either this or the June meeting as “informal.”
Bernstein, who was reelected in 2020, said he voted for the resolution because he does not want Weiser’s comments to become “politics as usual” and instead wants to hold Weiser accountable for his conduct.
“Regent Weiser, I appreciate your apology,” Bernstein said. “But your apology does not release my responsibility to hold you accountable. Nor does it minimize the importance of strongly promoting our University’s values.”
Daily Staff Reporters Arjun Thakkar and Dominic Coletti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.