UM officials lambaste Michigan GOP Chair Ron Weiser for 'sexist name calling'

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor —  Top University of Michigan leaders on Sunday joined the chorus of criticism of state Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser, sending himletters lambasting him for calling the state's top Democratic officeholders "witches."

UM President Schlissel and Provost Susan Collins issued statements, and six female deans sent a letter to Weiser that was co-signed by 16 male deans after numerous Democratic UM regents called on their colleague to step down from the board.

Weiser, who also serves on the UM Board of Regents, has been under fire since The Detroit News published a video Friday showing comments he made last month at a North Oakland Republican Club meeting, in which he referred to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson as "the three witches."

Ron Weiser

When a crowd member asked Weiser about the "witches in our own party," he replied: "Ma'am, other than assassination, I have no other way ... other than voting out. OK?" 

Schlissel said that Weiser's comments do "not represent the values or beliefs of the University of Michigan. I condemn any suggestion of violence against a duly elected state or federal official."

"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," he wrote. "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."

Collins agreed.

"I, too, found Regent Weiser’s remarks to be demeaning to women and contrary to the democratic values of our state and country," she said in a statement that was published in the University Record, UM's publication for faculty and staff.

"As provost, I reaffirm that: All members of our community can and should expect respect.  This most certainly includes women and those from marginalized groups," Collins wrote. "Violent references and images are never acceptable ways to counter those with whom we disagree."

Weiser apologized for the "off-hand comments" on Saturday, adding: "I have never advocated for violence and never will." The apology came a day after Weiser tweeted that his comments had been taken out of context.

"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," Weiser said. "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."

Weiser also said he did not intend to step down from the board.

In a tweet on Sunday, Nessel said Weiser's comments were "not an apology."

"This is Ron Weiser trying to salvage his relationship with @UMich," the attorney general tweeted.

On Sunday, Anne Curzan, dean of the university's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, sent an email to department faculty which contained a letter she said she sent to Weiser calling on him "to repair the serious harm you have caused."

In her email Curzan wrote: "As the dean of LSA, I felt compelled to speak out in the face of these comments by a university regent — comments that used misogynistic and inflammatory language and made allusions to violence against elected officials."

Curzan wrote to Weiser: "Your words do damage and disrespect not only to women in leadership positions, whether elected or appointed, but also to young women who will lead in the future. We must speak out in protest when women are threatened with violence because of the decisions they have made.

"We believe that sexist name calling and threats of violence, especially from those in positions of power, simply are not acceptable," the letter said. "This is not a context-dependent question: they are not acceptable."

Co-signing the letter were Patricia Hurn, dean of the School of Nursing; Laurie McCauley, dean of the School of Dentistry; Elizabeth Birr Moje, dean of the School of Education; Lori Ploutz-Snyder, dean of the School of Kinesiology; and Lynn Videka, dean of the School of Social Work.

Sixteen other faculty members, all men, signed the letter "in solidarity." Among them were Marschall Runge, executive vice president for medical affairs and dean of the Medical School; Mark West, dean of the Law School; Scott DeRue, dean of the School of Business, and Michael S. Barr, dean of the School of Public Policy.

Weiser did not immediately return a phone call Sunday.

Staff Writer Kim Kozlowski contributed.