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Four members of the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents — half the Board — are calling on Regent Ron Weiser (R) to resign following his comments at a Thursday afternoon North Oakland Republican Club meeting, during which Weiser called top Michigan Democratic lawmakers “the three witches” and made references to political assassination.
These comments — likely made in reference to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and two Michigan Republican Congressmen who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump — drew criticism on social media from various Regents and student groups like the Graduate Employees’ Organization. Washtenaw County prosecutor Eli Savit also criticized Weiser on Twitter, calling Weiser’s comments as “misogynistic and violent.”
While Weiser has been the subject of criticism from students and faculty for months due to his initial response to the Jan. 6 attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, his role as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and the surfacing of inappropriate emails to the board, Friday marked the first time other regents explicitly called for his resignation or criticized him directly.
Weiser is one of only two Republican regents on the board, joined by Regent Sarah Hubbard (R), who was elected to the board during the November 2020 general election. Weiser and Hubbard could not be reached for comment in time for publication. Katherine White (D) could also not be reached.
University President Mark Schlissel issued a statement Saturday afternoon condemning Weiser’s remarks and emphasizing the comments do not represent the Board of Regents.
“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.”
The statement also noted regents are elected in a statewide ballot and recalling a regent would be handled by the Michigan Secretary of State’s office.
In three Friday afternoon tweets, Regent Jordan Acker (D) called on Weiser to resign and said his “reckless and dangerous language” is not a reflection of the University Board of Regents and inappropriate following the Jan. 6 violence at the U.S. capitol.
“Comments about removal by ‘assassination’ are a literal attack on our Democracy, and are incredibly dangerous in light of the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol … and the FBI-thwarted attacks on our Governor,” the tweet reads. “Furthermore, sexist language referring to the Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State as ‘witches’ has no place on our campus. This language and behavior is incompatible with service to the University of Michigan.”
Regent Mark Bernstein (D) told The Daily in a text message he believes Weiser should resign, calling the comments “blatantly sexist.”
“Regent Ron Weiser’s comments are dangerous, disgusting and damaging to our state and the University of Michigan,” Bernstein wrote. “His reference to Governor Whitmer, Attorney General Nessel and Secretary of State Benson as “the three witches” is blatantly sexist. Suggesting that the work of a political party should enable ‘burning’ these three women ‘at the stake’ is even worse.”
Bernstein wrote that Weiser’s reference to the “assassination” of members of Congress in the context of political rhetoric has no place in society.
“This isn’t and shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Bernstein wrote. “It’s about rejecting violent, reckless rhetoric.”
Bernstein added that the regents’ job is to be responsible stewards of the University — a responsibility he does not believe Weiser has fulfilled.
“In doing so we must protect democracy, honor public service and support our students,” Bernstein wrote. “Regent Weiser has failed to do so. Our University and the people of this state deserve better. He should resign.”
Regent Mike Behm (D) told The Daily in a phone interview he would ask Weiser to resign. Behm said he found the misogyny of Weiser’s statements about Whitmer, Nessel and Benson alarming.
”Misogyny has no place in our society and is antithetical to his role as a Regent, and also to the mission of the University of Michigan,” Behm said.
Behm added that he thought a publicly elected official should never use the word “assassination” in a speech.
Asked why he thought Regents were just speaking against Weiser now despite months of calls from many in the campus community for his resignation, Behm said Weiser’s January oral surgery could have been a factor in the remarks where he claimed ignorance of the Capitol insurrection.
“(Thursday’s speech) is quite different from that,” Behm said. “Those were planned remarks in front of a group of people.”
Regent Paul Brown (D) called on Weiser to resign in a Saturday morning text message to The Daily and said the comments were “misogynistic, divisive and reckless.”
“I was sickened to see the Republican State Party Chair refer to our state’s three highest elected officials, and my friends, as “witches” to be “burned at the stake,” and for the audience to cheer in support,” Brown wrote. “These statements are at odds with everything this great University, our state, our country and good people hold sacred. Degrading and inflammatory speech by any public official is inexcusable and should not be tolerated by good people.”
Brown added that he was saddened to have to condemn Weiser, noting Weiser’s contributions to Michigan Medicine that have “saved lives and will save countless more in the future.”
“Although we hold different political beliefs, I’ve known Regent Weiser to be an exceptional regent, completely dedicated to the University and its noble mission,” Brown wrote. “I know Regent Weiser loves the University of Michigan. He has been extremely generous to the University’s three campuses and hospital.”
Brown said he believes in redemption and forgiveness, and so hoped the initial reports of the comments were inaccurate or that Weiser would release “a since apology.”
“Disappointingly, I have since learned that the reporting is accurate and Regent Weiser’s follow up statement is anything but an apology,” Brown wrote. “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.”
Regent Denise Ilitch (D), chair of the Board of Regents, condemned Weiser’s comments but stopped short of calling for his resignation in an email to The Daily.
“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 wrote. “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.”
Prior to Acker, Bernstein and Behm and Brown’s calls for resignation, in a phone call with The Daily, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said the University is aware of the reports of Thursday’s North Oakland Republican Club meeting but declined to comment on any of Weiser’s comments.
Weiser was not at Thursday’s Regents meeting — and has not attended a single meeting in 2021— but Fitzgerald dismissed any criticism of Weiser’s attendance at meetings being unusual. Fitzgerald said Regents have conflicts with Board meetings from “time to time,” and noted Regent Katherine White (D) has also missed the last two meetings.
“Those conflicts often collide with each other and those things are sort of inevitable,” Fitzgerald said.
A source close to the Board told The Daily that Weiser was at Michigan Republican Party Headquarters during the February Board meeting, and Weiser said Thursday that he was recruiting a Republican candidate for Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees during Thursday’s meeting.
Behm said Weiser has “not been engaged” on the Board since January, pointing to his absence at both of the Board’s 2021 meetings.
“He has been less engaged on the Board, and so I don’t know if he will remain on the Board in name only or not,” Behm said.
Behm added that he was able to attend Thursday’s meetings all day despite being out of town.
“That’s what you sign up to do when you run for the Board,” Behm said.
Weiser said he would not resign from the Board in a statement posted to Twitter Friday evening.
“I made some comments that are clearly being taken out of context,” Weiser wrote. “While I should have chosen my words more carefully, anyone who knows me understands I would never advocate for violence…. I will not be resigning from the University of Michigan, and our focus at the Michigan Republican Party remains the same—winning in 2022.“
The Michigan Democratic Party released a statement calling on Weiser to resign from the Board of Regents on Friday evening, saying Weiser’s comments are not appropriate for his elected office.
“As a member of the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents, he oversees millions of taxpayer dollars,” Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said in the statement. “It’s clear his comments do not reflect the values of the university’s board, faculty, and student body. His statements are not only sexist but markedly dangerous and will only serve to damage the institution’s reputation.”
State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, also called for Weiser’s resignation in a tweet Saturday afternoon.
“Ron Weiser should resign,” Irwin’s tweet said. “His recent statements are an embarrassment to the University and a danger to our liberal democracy. The University of Michigan deserves better.”
Whitmer responded to Weiser in a tweet with a quote from author Lindy West.
“For a long time, a certain set of men have called women like me ‘witches’ to silence and discredit us,” Whitmer’s tweet said.
A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of State labeled the comments “horrifically reckless and unconscionable,” in light of the October plot to kidnap Whitmer and the Jan. 6 violence at the U.S. capitol.
“Secretary Benson and her colleagues have experienced firsthand how this rhetoric is later used as justification for very real threats made against government officials, election administrators and democracy itself,” the statement reads. “Any leader who does not resoundingly denounce this kind of behavior and attitude is complicit in their silence. If we’re ever going to be able to move forward and begin solving the problems facing the people of this state in a bipartisan manner, comments like this need to stop.”
This article has been updated to include comments from various regents, University President Mark Schlissel and other public officials released after the article’s initial publication.