UM regents call meeting to consider censure of GOP's Weiser

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The University of Michigan Board of Regents is calling a Friday special meeting where two sources say the board will consider a vote to censure Michigan GOP Chair and Regent Ron Weiser following controversial comments he made about Democratic and Republican elected officials.

Ron Weiser

Weiser, who has served as a regent since 2016, said the GOP needs to defeat "the three witches" in 2022 in apparent regard to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Weiser also said the only way to remove two sitting Republican congressmen who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump — Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids Township — was either by vote or "assassination." 

After repeatedly used the phrase "the three witches" during his speech, Weiser added, “Our job now is to soften up those three witches and make sure that when we have good candidates to run against them, that they are ready for the burning at the stake,” Weiser said at one point. "And maybe, the press heard that, too."

In a Wednesday release, UM said the regents would "meet in a special virtual session" at 9:30 a.m. Friday "to address recent events." The university said the public will not be allowed to comment at the meeting.

The meeting will include the vote to consider censure, which sources say is highly unusual. 

UM officials did not respond to questions about whether the board has ever previously censured a regent.

“Higher education boards have limited remedies for behavior unbecoming of a board member, and censure is one of them," said Henry Stoever, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. "... a board censuring one of its members is not common.”

Weiser, who previously served as board chair, is also an Ann Arbor businessman, former U.S. ambassador to the Slovak Republic and the university's sixth-largest donor. A campus building, Weiser Hall, is named after his family, along with a family club and tunnel in the Crisler Center and several centers or institutes that bear the Weiser name.

Reached Tuesday Weiser said in a text message that he "already issued an apology."

"I intend to stay as a Regent and continue to support the university that I love," Weiser said.

Weiser has come under fire twice in recent months. In January in his bid to lead the state GOP, he was accused of complicity in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and faced questions about possible ethics and campaign finance violations because of payments made with party funds to a one-time statewide candidate.

Then two days ago, current GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox raised ethical and campaign finance violation questions about payments made with party funds to a secretary of state candidate in what she said seemed like a bid to get the candidate out of the race. Cox also lobbied Republicans to temporarily put her back at the helm of the party so it could look beyond Weiser to find another leader.  

The expected vote is set to occur one week after The Detroit News published video of Weiser taking questions at the North Oakland Republican Club meeting. During the meeting, he said the party was focused on prevailing over the "three witches." Whitmer, Benson and Nessel are up for reelection in 2022.

Late last week, Democrat regents called on Weiser to resign.

Weiser issued an apology on Saturday.

"I have never advocated for violence and never will," the Republican regent said. "In an increasingly vitriolic political environment, we should all do better to treat each other with respect, myself included." 

UM President Mark Schlissel, Provost Susan Collins and numerous deans issued statements Sunday slamming his comments.

"It is never appropriate to raise the specter of assassination or perpetuate misogynistic stereotypes against anyone in any setting," Schlissel said.

The issue prompted a statement from the Michigan Catholic Sisters, leaders of the state's Catholic women's religious orders, calling on Weiser to resign for his "abhorrent" language.

"His language is not only abhorrent on its face, it poses a real and present danger to the three elected leaders and to all women in Michigan, giving bullies and abusers public license to vent their anger and vitriol on the bodies of real women in our cities, neighborhoods, and State Capitol," the statement read.

Nessel appeared on the "Anderson Cooper 360" show Monday and said this is not the first time that GOP leaders have "demoralized and dehumanized" people and that's why her office created units for hate crimes and domestic terrorism.

"It's like saying I didn't know that calling the governor a dictator over and over would incite people to want to kidnap and murder her," Nessel said. "I didn't know that calling COVID the Chinavirus would inspire people to murder Asians. Or, I didn't know that saying the election stolen would cause people to mount an insurrection against our government. We know that words matter and that they incite actions."

Nessel also said she thought it was a strategy to get Trump supporters out in 2022, and it would be something Republicans would hold onto.

Weiser temporarily shut down his social media account due to threats of violence.

UM's Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, the executive arm of the faculty senate, and Michigan House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township said Wednesday Weiser should resign.

"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," said Lasinski. "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."

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com