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Faculty and students pressure regent to resign after Capitol violence

University of Michigan regent Ron Weiser is facing pressure from students, faculty and staff at the university to resign due to his associations with the Michigan Republican Party and President Trump, as well as his lack of response to unsubstantiated claims about fraud in the 2020 election.

“The University of Michigan as the largest public university in the state of Michigan and one of the largest in the country does a lot of talk about how it supports students of color and how it acts as an important public institution,” said Amytess Girgis, a senior at Michigan who organized a petition calling for Weiser’s removal. “For it to not take a stand against one of its top administrators being complicit in the absolutely unacceptable event that took place last week is unacceptable to the members of the U of M community.”

Weiser is the presumed incoming co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party and former U.S. ambassador to Slovakia. He was also previously involved in Republican National Committee fundraising efforts for Trump’s 2016 election. He was elected to the role of regent by statewide vote in 2016.

The petition specifically takes issue with Weiser’s refusal to condemn Trump’s role in inciting violence at the United States Capitol last week.

When asked by Bridge Magazine if Trump bears blame for inciting the mob at the Capitol, Weiser said, “I didn’t read any of that stuff,” and said he was watching a Michigan basketball game that day. He later told The Detroit News he was having oral surgery during the events.

“This response is merely a continuation of Regent Weiser — incoming co-chair of the Michigan GOP and former RNC fundraising coordinator for President Trump — refusing to condemn Trump’s undisputed endorsement of white supremacist violence,” the petition reads.

The petition also accuses Weiser of being complicit in the efforts to overturn the 2020 election based on debunked claims of voter fraud. His incoming co-chair at the Michigan GOP helped organize the rally at the Capitol, but he has stood by her and said she was not involved in any violence.

Ian Robinson, president of the lecturers’ union at Michigan and adjunct professor in sociology, said it was Weiser’s treatment of the 2020 election that was most concerning.

“For me what’s most important is Weiser’s refusal to repudiate the mythology of a stolen election,” said Robinson, who endorsed the petition as an individual, as the union has yet to discuss it. “In an institution that stands for reason, argument, and evidence … we deserve to be led by people who believe in those values.”

Weiser did not respond to an email requesting comment.

While the petition calls for the Board of Regents to “recall” Weiser, Girgis said the petition is more a pressure campaign than a true citizen’s recall. (A true recall petition would require 25 percent of the people who voted in the 2020 election as signatories and could not be submitted via Change.org. So far, about 4,400 have signed the online petition.)

“Our primary goal ideally would be for Weiser to admit that what he did was unacceptable and resign himself,” Girgis said. “The next thing we hope to do is really see some specific and strong statements from the president and the other regents.”

A true recall petition in the future, though, is not off the table, she said.

The petition is endorsed by a number of influential groups on Michigan’s three campuses, including the Graduate Employees Organization, a union for graduate students that led a strike this past year against the university’s COVID-19 response.

Faculty and students have also signed a separate open letter addressed directly to Weiser, calling on him to resign.

“We acknowledge that you were democratically elected to your position as regent. We also acknowledge your right to seek the chair of the MI-GOP,” the letter reads. “However, we maintain that the aims of these two positions diverge so radically that you cannot hold both concurrently without bringing disrepute to our university.”

The University of Michigan, the letter says, is dedicated to seeking truth and the emergence of a diverse, equitable society.

“The Michigan GOP, by contrast, is a partisan organization that has chosen to side with blatant lies, helped foment an anti-democratic uprising, and worked to disenfranchise the voters of Detroit, a majority Black city.”

Silke-Maria Weineck, a professor of German studies and comparative literature and co-author of the open letter, said it isn’t meant to express the idea that no Republican Party official should ever serve as regent, but rather that Weiser specifically is “too deeply compromised” by his service to Trump and Trumpism.

“There is a lot of talk of unity and reconciliation right now, but there can be no reconciliation without truth, and no reconciliation without accountability,” she said via email. “That does not and cannot mean that MI-GOP’s representatives must forever be barred from our state’s civil society; it does mean, however, that they have to publicly reflect on and account for their evident complicity in the events and the rhetoric that led up to the failed coup of January 6th — beyond rote condemnations of political violence that, in Weiser’s case, fail to even mention Donald Trump’s incitement of an event that cost six people their lives and shocked the world.”

A university spokesperson declined to comment on the calls for Weiser’s resignation and instead directed media to President Mark Schlissel’s Jan. 6 statement on the Capitol violence. The spokesperson said the university would have nothing to say about the petition or the letter.

In response to the efforts to pressure him to resign, Weiser posted a thread on Twitter Saturday expanding on his thoughts.

“Let me be clear, the events in our nation’s Capital this week were both incredibly tragic and wrong. People were misled. And that resulted in death and destruction. That is unacceptable and abhorrent,” he wrote. “I believe in a Republican Party that shares a belief in our Constitution, where the Rule of Law prevails over the whims or dictates of a man or mob. I think we win the contest of ideas with better arguments, stronger solutions, and real-world policies.”

In a previous statement on Twitter, while not directly clarifying his thoughts on accusations of election fraud, he said, “The president said this morning that a peaceful transfer of power will occur and therefore the 2020 elections are over. It is time for Republicans to rest, regroup, and focus on defeating the Democrats in 2022.”

Henry Stoever, president of the Association of Governing Boards, in response to questions about the Michigan situation, said boards should welcome a diversity of perspectives.

“You want diversity in the boardroom, and we encourage discussion and encourage debate,” he said. “I believe in diversity of thought, diversity of perspective and free speech.”

Beyond Weiser himself, such efforts to hold influential or visible Trump supporters accountable for the siege on the Capitol reflect the tough questions now dominating the national discourse about  thresholds that must be met for determining responsibility, complicity and guilt for the actions of the rioters.

“In moral philosophy we make a distinction between acts of omission and acts of commission. Sometimes not doing something or not saying something, in certain contexts, can be a violation of moral principles,” Robinson said. “And I think this is one of those cases.”

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