Bellevue college criticizes teacher, math question

Bellevue Community College Board of Trustees issued a statement Saturday condemning the behavior of an instructor who wrote a racially insulting math question recently brought to the college's attention by students.

The trustees and college officials, some of them connected by conference call, met in closed session Saturday afternoon.

The statement issued afterward said the instructor demonstrated "gross violations of BCC's mission and core value of respect for diversity" and asks that the curriculum and practice of all departments be examined to ensure unacceptable negative stereotypes are eliminated.

The question 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." It went on to ask when the watermelon would hit the ground, based on a formula provided.

The college's statement said the question demeaned U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is black. The racist connotation stems from negative caricatures of blacks eating watermelon during the days of plantation slavery.

The college has not released the name of the instructor who wrote the question, but it said BCC President Jean Floten said the instructor wants to come forward and publicly apologize. She said the teacher is not known for being politically active and there is no evidence that the teacher's political beliefs played a role in how he worded the question. The teacher was ignorant of the stereotype, Floten said.

"He loves the word 'Condoleezza,' he loves the way it looks and is spelled," Floten said. "There is no political motivation behind this."

Originally, the question referenced Gallagher, a comedian who smashes watermelons and other fruit as part of his act, and was used on a math final about four years ago. The question was rewritten about two years ago to reference Condoleezza and a federal building. As part of common practice, the question was kept on file and used by other teachers to be handed out on practice tests.

The college became aware of the question in recent weeks after student Chelsey Richardson saw the question on a practice test and complained to the math department.

On Friday, BCC's math department issued an official apology about the math question. Earlier in the week, BCC college officials held an open-campus meeting to announce recommendations the college may take to ensure racial and cultural sensitivity, including creating a vice president of equity and pluralism position and an ombudsman position.

The college plans to hold a press conference on Tuesday to discuss which recommendations it plans to implement.

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or