BELLEVUE, Wash. – A community college math instructor has apologized for a test question invoking Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that students complained was racially insensitive.
Peter Ratener, 60, who has taught at Bellevue Community College for more than 25 years, said Wednesday night at a trustees meeting that the question on an exam last month was an "egregious mistake."
It began, "Condoleezza holds a watermelon just over the edge of the roof of the 300-foot Federal Building, and tosses it up with a velocity of 20 feet per second." The question then asked students to determine when the watermelon would hit the ground.
The Board of Trustees condemned the wording as insulting to Rice, who is black, because of caricatures of blacks eating watermelon during the days of plantation slavery.
Ratener said the question originally referred to Gallagher, a one-named comedian who smashed watermelons as part of his act, and that he changed it to Condoleezza because she was more recognizable and because he likes the name.
A number of Seattle-area black community leaders demanded Ratener be fired or disciplined.
"Apologies have been made, but where is the atonement?" said James Kelly, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.
College President Jean Floten said action would be initiated against Ratener under a section of the faculty contract that covers punishment, such as a reprimand or suspension, but not termination.