In recent weeks, thousands of University of Michigan students, alumni and community members signed a petition demanding University Regent Ronald Weiser (R) be removed from his post for failing to unequivocally disavow the Capitol riot and the chain of events leading up to it. Though Weiser condemned the violence itself, he failed to account for how he, his colleagues in the Michigan Republican Party and the politicians he funds — one of whom was former President Donald Trump — stoked the fires of mistrust and faux-populist rage that led to this disgraceful event. 

One of Weiser’s connections to the riot is his soon-to-be co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, Meshawn Maddock, who was at the center of the racist and anti-democratic campaign to overturn Michigan’s election results and who happened to organize the busing of protestors to the rally that became the insurrection. 

For Weiser to claim that Maddock didn’t incite the riot is to pretend that there is no connection between the movement to undermine the legitimacy of the election and the riot itself. It is to say Maddock is not responsible for a fire, despite pouring kerosene and handing out matches. It simply defies belief, and it is an instance of a U-M Regent excusing actions that contributed to a violent attack on our nation’s Capitol.

We write this op-ed to call Weiser to resign due to his fundamental conflicts of interest and immoral conduct regarding the Capitol riot. But we also write this op-ed to connect Weiser’s troubling links to the Capitol riot to the problematic nature of his relationship to the University, which far predates the events at the Capitol. We call on all of us, as members of the U-M community, to hold Weiser accountable. In particular, we believe the faculty at the ironically named Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies should be more vocal about the ways Weiser has worked to undermine democracy at our university and in the state of Michigan.

Professor Dan Slater, the director of the WCED, released a statement on the events at the Capitol. His statement is worth reading — it throws the tensions between the values of the Weiser Center and its namesake into sharp relief. 

Slater is clear that “to claim that the election was fraudulent or stolen is to betray the democratic foundations of our Republic.” Thus, from Slater’s own perspective, Maddock, a close colleague of the man who funds the center Slater heads, has betrayed American democracy. The WCED’s mission is to study “how democracies emerge and the conditions necessary for assuring and extending freedom.” Its namesake, however, is a man who actively works to undermine democracy, both in our country at large and at the University. The Graduate Employees’ Organization calls on Slater to issue a statement about the tension between the source of his funding and the admirable mission he undertakes through his important work. 

That Weiser would be implicated in this reprehensible series of events comes as no surprise to us at GEO. It has long been our position that it is completely inappropriate for Weiser, a major landlord in Ann Arbor and donor to the University, to sit on the Board of Regents. Weiser is the founder of McKinley Associates Inc., one of Ann Arbor’s biggest landlords. 

As Regent, he has significant input over the University’s budget. As the University has increased its student population over the past decade without building new dorm space, rental prices in Ann Arbor have skyrocketed. Weiser has likely profited handsomely, given the unfettered increase in the cost of living and housing. According to an online petition, the company raised their monthly rent by up to $200 in the summer of 2020, in the thick of the pandemic, despite having received $5 to $10 million in low-interest, federally-backed loans which may be forgiven. 

Over the summer, when the University made the questionable decision to bring undergraduates back to Ann Arbor for an in-person pandemic semester, Weiser’s profits from McKinley properties in Ann Arbor were potentially on the line should the students not return and leave his rental units vacant. 

Weiser’s assault on American democracy goes beyond his support of the far-right and financial interests as a landlord. As any scholar at the WCED would tell you, democracy means much more than simply voting. GEO sees ourselves as working at the intersection of two important sites of democracy: the University as a public institution and the labor movement as an expression of workers’ self-determination. Weiser has insidiously worked to undermine both, and we believe it is incumbent on Slater and others at the WCED — if they are serious about “Reviving Democracy, Globally and Locally” — to comment on his role therein. 

The University’s standing as a democratic institution is seriously undermined by the unaccountable power Weiser wields as a donor. In our view, Weiser only has many millions of dollars to donate to the University since the top 1% have been undertaxed for decades. 

As tenants, many of whom line Weiser’s pockets with rents equalling half our salaries, we believe this money is not his to give away. That money belongs to the people of Michigan and should go to the University without Weiser getting to put his name on buildings or direct how it is spent. A university is not truly a public entity, and will not be directed to work in the public interest especially if it receives an ever-dwindling share of its funding from the state

Relying on private donations means that the University is perversely incentivized to prioritize projects that would attract donations over those that are in the public interest. This shift to relying on private donations goes far beyond Weiser and ultimately undermines the University’s mission as a public institution. Weiser, in his triple role as Regent, mega-donor and landlord, exemplifies a troubling broader trend while at the same time existing uniquely beyond the pale of anything even resembling democratic accountability. This is fundamentally at odds with the mission of the WCED and, indeed, the University itself.

Weiser has also worked to undermine Michigan’s labor movement and, with it, workplace democracy. University professor Elizabeth Anderson has argued in her book “Private Government” that workplaces, where employees have no say in their management, are akin to dictatorships. Trade unions are one of the few bulwarks against such dictatorships and give workers a say in the decisions that govern their lives. Robust trade unions are a critical feature of any society that would claim the mantle of democracy.

Weiser, together with the DeVos family, worked for the campaign to pass so-called “Right-to-Work” legislation in Michigan, which has hamstrung the labor movement here and across the country. This was nothing less than a full-scale assault on democracy in Michigan. 

When the Editorial Page Editors reached out to Weiser for comment, he did not respond.

In the conclusion of his statement on the Capitol riot, Slater eloquently and wisely asserted, “Democracy never finishes emerging. It is a set of actions, not a finished state of being. American democracy has always been incomplete. It has never worked for all of us. This week’s violent events show just how fragile and faulty our incomplete democracy is as well.” 

GEO could not agree more. Weiser’s place in the University is an affront to the principles that Slater and his colleagues at the WCED work to defend. We call on Slater and all those at the University whose work seeks to further the righteous cause of democracy to speak out against Weiser and join GEO in the fight for a truly democratic university — one that would serve the public interest and respect the rights of its employees to have a say in the management of their workplace.

GEO’s 2020-2021 Officers can be reached at

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