Former UM regents call on GOP chair Weiser to resign

Mark Hicks Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Former University of Michigan regents are calling on embattled state GOP Chair Ron Weiser to resign after his comments targeting Democratic and Republican elected officials.

In a statement Thursday, eight emeriti members said while they found his remarks "abhorrent, he has a First Amendment right to his views."

"That doesn’t mean that if he believes that he is free to denigrate women with whom he disagrees by calling them 'witches' and if he encourages assassination as a way to deal with honorable men of his own party with whom he disagrees he should retain the privilege of remaining a fiduciary for a great university," they said in a statement sent to the current board Thursday. "That is why we are joining many others in calling for his resignation."

Ron Weiser stands in his office at McKinley Associates, the real estate investment company he founded, in Ann Arbor March 10, 2020.

The statement comes ahead of a special meeting Friday by the current board during which the board will consider a vote to censure Weiser, sources told The Detroit News.

During an appearance at a North Oakland Republican Club meeting last week, Weiser, who has served as a UM regent since 2016, said the GOP needs to defeat "the three witches" in 2022, apparently referencing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

The Ann Ann Arbor businessman 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." 

In their statement Thursday, the UM regents emeritus — Paul Brown, Olivia Maynard, Julia Donovan Darlow, Philip Power, Laurence Deitch, S. Martin Taylor, Shauna Ryder Diggs and Nellie Varner — called Weiser's views "plain malignant."

Ron Weiser

"If we don’t denounce them for what they are, who will? And if the University community doesn’t denounce Mr. Weiser’s remarks and apparent attitudes, how will we look our young women students who justifiably aspire to greatness in the eye?" the letter said. "We must actively repair the damage he has done to our women students by his malevolent sexism in trying to brand the top three executive leaders of our state as 'witches'."

The former regents also noted Weiser is among the school's top donors. A campus building, Weiser Hall, is named after his family, along with a family club and tunnel in the Crisler Center as well as several centers or institutes.

"That makes this unfortunate situation sad," the former regents said. "We ask Mr. Weiser to show his ongoing commitment to the University’s role, mission and wellbeing by resigning from the Board. We understand that may be tough for him to do, but, given his recent remarks, we believe that it is also the only honorable course of action available to him."

Weiser told The Detroit News on Tuesday he intends "to stay as a Regent and continue to support the university that I love."

Last weekend, Weiser issued an apology, saying he "never advocated for violence and never will. In an increasingly vitriolic political environment, we should all do better to treat each other with respect, myself included." 

Weiser has since temporarily suspended his social media accounts after receiving "multiple threats of violence" amid backlash from the meeting comments, which were recorded in a video obtained by The News.

UM President Mark Schlissel, Provost Susan Collins and numerous deans have condemned Weiser's remarks.

UM’s Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, faculty governance committee, issued a statement condemning Weiser this week.

It said, in part, that “the language used by Regent Weiser and the intention of such language altogether perpetuate misogynistic attitudes that continue to oppress women and girls while it incites and perpetuates violence … Disrespect of women and incitement to violence against elected officials is a betrayal of the trust our community.”

The faculty governance committee, which is made up of nine people, asked 7,320 UM faculty members to vote on whether they stood behind it. In less than 24 hours, 1,837 faculty members voted on it. Of those, 1,807 endorsed it while 30 faculty members voted against it.

Colleen Conway, chair of the UM faculty senate and a music professor, said that the getting 25% participation on a survey never happens, especially within 24 hours.

“We were floored at the number of faculty who responded to say this behavior and the way this man is speaking cannot represent this university,” said Conway.

She said she was asked for the data so it could be part of the Friday special meeting when Regents are expected to vote to censure Weiser. 

The survey generated a handful of emails from some faculty members who said they were glad the faculty was taking a stand and Weiser’s comments were inappropriate, Conway said, but some felt that they were crossing the line into politics since Weiser was elected by voters.

“My guess is those people are concerned about further putting a divide between faculty at the University of Michigan and the conservative voter base in the state,” Conway said. “There’s a concern that there is already a lack of appreciation for higher education. I can’t imagine there are 30 people who thought what he said was OK.”