All six deans of colleges at the University of Michigan who are women wrote to Regent Ron Weiser (R) Sunday afternoon to condemn misogynistic and violent comments Weiser made Thursday that have drawn criticism from University President Mark Schlissel and sparked calls for Weiser’s resignation from four of his colleagues on the Board of Regents.
“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.”
The letter — signed by LSA Dean Anne Curzan, Nursing Dean Patricia Hurn, Dentistry Dean Laurie McCauley, Education Dean Elizabeth Birr Moje, Kinesiology Dean Lori Ploutz-Snyder and Social Work Dean Lynn Videka — calls Weiser’s comments “insulting, demeaning to women, and contrary to the democratic values of our state and country.”
The deans ask Weiser to “to repair the serious harm you have caused.” The letter does not explicitly call for Weiser to resign.
All 13 additional deans have signed the letter in solidarity. Roger Cone, vice provost and director of the biosciences initiative, David Lam, director of the Institute for Social Research, and James Hilton, vice provost for academic innovation, also signed the letter in solidarity.
During Thursday’s North Oakland Republican Club meeting, a video first published by The Detroit News shows Weiser referring to presumably Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel as the “three witches” — a comment that has drawn criticism for its blatant misogyny. In the video, he also makes references to assassination when discussing two Republican Michigan congressmen who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Weiser is the namesake of the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies and the Ronald and Eileen Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia, two University institutions that promote research on new democratic governments and their transition out of autocratic rule. The deans’ letter points out the dichotomy between Weiser’s comments and his funding of these two centers.
The six women deans wrote that Weiser’s comments harm women in leadership positions, as well as young women aspiring to lead.
“We must speak out in protest when women are threatened with violence because of the decisions they have made,” the deans wrote. “We believe that sexist name calling and threats of violence, especially from those in positions of power, simply are not acceptable.”
In his first public comment Friday, Weiser wrote that his comments were “clearly being taken out of context.”
“My off-the-cuff comments received more scrutiny from the media and leftists in the last 24 hours than the governor’s handling of COVID, the deaths she caused in nursing homes and unemployment issues impacting too many hard-working Michiganders to this day,” Weiser wrote.
The six women deans replied directly to Weiser’s contention on Friday that his words had been taken out of context: “This is not a context-dependent question: they are not acceptable.”
After four Regents — Jordan Acker (D), Mark Bernstein (D), Mike Behm (D) and Paul Brown (D) — called for his resignation throughout Friday and Saturday, Weiser issued a more remorseful statement Saturday evening.
“In an increasingly vitriolic political environment, we should all do better to treat each other with respect, myself included,” Weiser wrote. “I fell short of that the other night. I apologize to those I offended for the flippant analogy about three women who are elected officials and for the off-hand comments about two other leaders. I have never advocated for violence and never will. While I will always fight for the people and policies I believe in, I pledge to be part of a respectful political dialogue going forward.”
Nessel wrote on Twitter Sunday morning that Weiser’s statement was not an apology.
“This is Ron Weiser trying to salvage his relationship with @UMich,” Nessel wrote. “If Ron’s comments inspired assasination attempts against the 5 officials he threatened, Ron would be fine with it as long as the university named another hall after him.”
Schlissel also issued a statement Saturday in response to Weiser’s comments, condemning his threats of violence but stopping short of calling for his resignation or removal.
“It is never appropriate to raise the specter of assassination or perpetuate misogynistic stereotypes against anyone in any setting,” Schlissel wrote. “Elected officials must adhere to a higher standard regardless of the context of their remarks.”
Weiser was also elected as the chair of the Michigan Republican Party in February after controversy surrounding an undisclosed payment he made to pressure a former secretary of state to withdraw from the race. He has not attended a Board of Regents meeting in 2021.
Earlier in the semester, Weiser faced calls for his resignation from some students and faculty for not condemning Trump’s role in the attempted insurrection at the Capitol and for inappropriate emails he sent to other Regents and Schlissel.
In a statement Monday, Central Student Government President and Vice President Amanda Kaplan and Saveri Nandigama, as well as incoming President and Vice President Nithya Arun and Carla Voigt, joined the deans in condemning Weiser’s comments and urged the rest of the Board of Regents to call for his resignation.
“We can never sacrifice the wellbeing of our students and community members, especially those most socially vulnerable, for the sake of political gain,” the statement reads. “Given his role at the University, Regent Weiser’s harmful remarks are inevitably tied to the University, whose values are antithetical to the statements he made.”
Regents are statewide officials elected to eight-year terms. Weiser’s term lasts from 2016-2024. A petition signed by 25% of Michiganders who voted in the 2020 election — more than a million people — is required to force a Regent into a recall election before their term is over. Weiser stated Friday he will not be resigning.
This article has been updated to include a statement of behalf of Central Student Government members.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Marschall Runge, dean of the Medical School, did not sign the letter in solidarity. His signature is on the copy of the letter posted on the U-M Public Affairs website.