Weiser refuses call by UM regents to resign, saying he 'won't be canceled'

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University of Michigan Regent Ron Weiser. - Ron Weiser/Detroit Free Press/TNS

DETROIT — University of Michigan regent and Michigan Republican Party chairman Ron Weiser refused to resign after the Democratic board majority called for him to do so during a Friday special meeting following his controversial remarks about high-ranking elected officials.

The resolution to censure Weiser for comments that "brought national and international disrepute" on the university was approved by the six regents. Regent Sarah Hubbard, a Republican, abstained, while Weiser didn't appear to cast a vote.

University of Michigan Chairwoman Denise Ilitch, a Democrat, removed the 75-year-old GOP regent from his assignments to the finance committee and University of Michigan-Dearborn and UM-Flint committee.

Weiser on Friday apologized for his "offhand remarks" last week calling three Democratic leaders "the three witches" and pledged to be part of a "respectful dialogue" moving forward. But he refused to resign.

"I will not be canceled," he said in the Zoom call, which he appeared to leave prior to the final censure vote.

The censure vote is symbolic. Weiser was elected on a statewide ballot to an eight-year term that ends at the finish of 2024 and can't be removed from the board by fellow regents.

The Democratic regents condemned Weiser's remarks at a Republican meeting last week, which also suggested the assassination of two Republican congressmen from Michigan who voted to impeach the president. Regents said apologies do not eliminate consequences. The board has six Democrats and two Republicans, including Weiser.

"This special meeting is as unprecedented in our 200-year history as it is unavoidable," said Regent Mark Bernstein, a Democrat. "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."

Ilitch said being a member of the Board of Regents is more than just a "fiduciary responsibility," but a call to always "represent and serve the university."

"It has become clear that serving as chair of a statewide political party is simply not compatible with serving on this board," Ilitch said. "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."

The Michigan Republican Party criticized the board's vote Friday as partisan retaliation.

"It is unfortunate that the Democrats on the board of regents are using Chairman Weiser's comments and apology as a political weapon," said Ted Goodman, communications director for the Michigan Republican Party. "He has apologized for remarks that were in jest and taken responsibility for the hurt they may have caused some. He loves the University of Michigan and has no intention of letting the left cancel him."

Hubbard, a GOP regent, said she didn't agree with the language used by Weiser "in reference to any public official."

"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.

The censure comes after Weiser last week said the Michigan GOP needed to defeat "the three witches" in 2022, referring to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Weiser, who has been on the board since 2016 and is a major UM donor, made the comments at a North Oakland Republican Club meeting.

At one point in the address, Weiser said, "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. And maybe, the press heard that, too."

Weiser, an Ann Arbor businessman and longtime Republican donor, also said the only way to remove GOP U.S. Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids Township was either by vote or "assassination." Upton and Meijer were among 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump in January.

"Regent Weiser had a choice that night," Regent Jordan Acker said of Weiser's comments last week. "He could have been the leader we ask our own students to become. ...Instead, he indulged that hate, he fed it as an arsonist feeds a small flame."

Acker also pushed back on Weiser's protests over his "cancellation."

"Accountability is not cancellation, and the reason we are here today is because Ron Weiser refuses to be accountable for his actions," the Democratic regent said.

Several groups have called for Weiser's resignation since he made the comments, including the Michigan Democratic Party and eight former UM regents, who said Thursday that Weiser needed to do so because of his "abhorrent" remarks. UM President Mark Schlissel, Provost Susan Collins and numerous deans have condemned Weiser's remarks.

On Thursday, UM Student Body President Nithya Arun and Vice President Carla Voigt called on Weiser to resign, arguing that his remarks "invite and normalize violence." Weiser's comments, Arun and Voigt said, "do not align with our mission of being the leaders and best."

"He has done irreparable damage to our Michigan community," they said. "We deserve better."

Weiser issued an apology after last week's meeting, 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."

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(Staff writer Kim Kozlowski contributed.)