The University of Michigan Board of Regents voted in a special meeting April 2 to censure one of its own members — Ronald Weiser — for calling three top state leaders “witches” and suggesting they be burned at the stake.
The resolution of censure, an official statement of disapproval, said members of the Board of Regents “condemn in the strongest possible language the behavior of Regent Weiser, his language, and the actions taken therein, and call on Regent Weiser to resign from the Board of Regents.”
The vote came just a week after Weiser, who was elected Republican state party chair in February, made the comments at a GOP meeting where he also referenced “assassination” when discussing two Michigan GOP members of Congress who voted to impeach President Donald Trump.
Weiser was elected to an eight-year term on the Board of Regents in 2016.
Voting in favor of the resolution were the five Democrats present for the virtual meeting: Jordan B. Acker, Michael J. Behm, Mark J. Bernstein, Paul W. Brown and Denise Ilitch. Republicans Weiser and Sarah Hubbard abstained. Democrat Katherine E. White was absent.
It was the first time in the university’s more-than-200-year history that a member of its governing board has been censured.
The vote followed 25 minutes of statements from regents, starting with Weiser, who told his colleagues he regrets his remarks, but he would not resign.
“As a university regent, I take full responsibility for what I said, and I am sorry and regret my poorly chosen words that were offhand remarks made at a private Republican Party meeting,” Weiser said. “I agree with part of this resolution, but I will not resign.
“I pledge to be part of a respectful dialogue going forward and challenge my colleagues and others to do the same. I will not be canceled.”
Weiser, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business from U-M in 1966, is one of the university’s most generous donors, having committed more than $120 million to many different programs at the university.
Ilitch, the board’s chair, said, “Each of us as regents knows that when we were elected to these positions, our fiduciary responsibility is to the University of Michigan. But it’s more than that. We must always represent and serve the university as long as we are in office. We can’t just turn that on and off. It’s always on.
“It has become clear that serving as chair of a statewide political party is simply not compatible with serving on this board. And the situation is only likely to intensify as we get closer to the 2022 elections and the state party chair becomes more and more of a public focal point.”
Acker said Weiser had betrayed the U-M community with what he called his “dangerous rhetoric.” He said Weiser contributed to the culture of violence with his words. But he also said he hoped that Weiser would “take the steps to fix the damage that you’ve caused to our community, to our campuses, to our board, and to our institution.”
Bernstein said, “The only thing worse than convening this meeting to censure Regent Weiser and call for his resignation would be to not censure him and not call for his resignation.
“It would be easy to dismiss Regent Weiser’s remarks as just partisan politics as usual or a mere slip of the tongue. But this conduct cannot become politics as usual. Violent threatening rhetoric should have no place in even the most partisan circumstances,” he said.
Behm challenged Weiser and the state Republican Party he leads to find ways to support, not undermine, the democratic process.
“Members of your party, last week, filed 39 bills that serve to suppress and silence voters. This is how autocracies and authoritarian regimes take hold; freedoms of citizens to express themselves are eroded and eventually disappear,” Behm said.
“In the height of irony, while you, through your words and your party’s actions, act to exclude Michigan citizens from the democratic process, the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies is convening an emergency roundtable discussion next Tuesday. Its title: ‘Submerging Democracy in America’s States.’”
Brown called Weiser’s comments “misogynistic, divisive and reckless” and said that anyone who would “unrepentantly engage in such speech should not remain in public office, especially at an institution like the University of Michigan, which so values upholding gender equality and protection of women’s rights.”
Hubbard, the only other Republican on the board, said she did not agree with the language Weiser used in reference to other public officials. “As a newly elected public official I expect respect and professionalism when others contact and reference me in my role as regent. Other public officials should expect the same treatment.
“I look forward to getting back to addressing the important issues facing the university such as the need to constantly strive for academic excellence and focusing on student needs,” Hubbard said.
Following the vote, Ilitch, in her capacity as board chair, announced a reorganization of board committees that stripped Weiser of his committee assignments. He had been serving on the finance, audits and investments committee, and the regional campuses committee.
Ilitch also acknowledged the hundreds of email messages and phone calls board members and university officials have received as well as the public statements made regarding Weiser’s remarks.
“We have heard your views and we take them very seriously,” she said.