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Action Against Instructor For 'Watermelon' Question On Exam
Special to the NNPA from the Seattle Medium
Originally posted 6/1/2006

SEATTLE (NNPA) – Bellevue Community College (BCC) has proposed disciplinary action against Peter Ratener, the instructor who wrote the controversial math exam question that begins “Condoleezza holds a watermelon,” by suspending him for one week without pay.

According to a letter from the college to Ratener obtained by The Seattle Medium under the Freedom of Information Act, it is the position that the controversy struck by the question brought disfavor to the college, damaged the college’s reputation, publicly undermined its (the college’s) meritorious work in pluralism, and created disruption to its academic and educational environments.

The letter also stated that the college did not believe that the question did not meet the schools standards for appropriate test material and treating students with respect.

The BCC faculty union has filed a grievance with the school.

Ratener, and his union representative, believe that no formal disciplinary action was necessary in the case because the Board of Trustees and the President of BCC had already formally and publicly condemned Ratener’s action.

If the appeal, handled by the college president, is not acceptable to Ratener then the case can go into arbitration.

Although members of the African American community were asking for his termination, many are happy that the college took some disciplinary action in the matter.

“We felt the appropriate remedy in this situation should be termination,” said Tony Orange, executive director of the Central Area Motivation Program.

“While I’m happy that the school administration has acted in a disciplinary manner that exceeds an apology, I’m sad that they did not propose our recommended remedy of termination.”

While this is the first complaint of racial insensitivity against Ratener in his 25 years at Bellevue Community College, many feel that he might have been able to avoid the situation if he had attended any of the numerous opportunities provided by BCC for faculty members to obtain education and training on cultural issues and the impact of stereotypical thinking on the perpetuation of racism.

“I thinks it’s obvious that he and the people in the math department who proofread the test should have attended [the trainings],” said community activist Eddie Rye, Jr. “If you are going to work in a multicultural society then you have to be prepared to deal with everyone in society.”

The average salary of a tenured instructor at BCC is $53,828.00 per year.

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