BCC professor continues to fight his one-week suspension

By on September 15, 2006

A Bellevue Community College professor who was disciplined last spring for writing a racially insensitive test question, has enlisted an organization concerned about freedom of speech issues on college campuses to help fight his one-week suspension.

Peter Ratener, a math professor at BCC for 26 years with no prior complaints against him, issued an emotional public apology at a BCC Board of Trustees meeting in April, saying he’d made an “egregious,” but unintentional mistake.

But some leaders of the local black community questioned how Ratener could make such a mistake and urged the board to take strong action, including termination.

In May, BCC administrators recommended Ratener be suspended for one week without pay. Ratener’s union then filed a grievance on his behalf. If upheld, he would lose a week’s salary, which is slightly more than $19,000 per quarter.

On Aug. 30, the two sides met for an eight-hour mediation session in an attempt to resolve the issue, but made little progress.

Ratener has yet to serve the suspension, and recently contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to help him contest the decision.

FIRE is a Philadelphia-based nonprofit educational foundation whose stated mission is to “defend and sustain individual rights at America’s increasingly repressive and partisan colleges and universities.”

“I felt this was not going anywhere in our favor,” said Ratener, who is currently in France, where for the past several years he’s spent the fall quarter with his wife and children. “There has been an organized attack on me and the school and I needed an organization fighting for me.”

Ratener said Wednesday he intends to return in January to teach and another mediation session is expected at that time.

If mediation fails to resolve differences between the two sides, the next step in the grievance process would be binding arbitration.

Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE, said the discussion generated by Ratener’s question, and his subsequent apology should have resolved the incident, making the suspension unnecessary.

“But when you have a state institution policing people’s writing for being offensive, you’re on a slippery slope,” said Lukianoff, who wants BCC to drop Ratener’s suspension.

“He said it was unintentional, but the benefit of the doubt flew out the window. It happens a lot in our hyperpolarized society. Under this environment, people don’t conceive of the possibility that it may have just been a mistake.”

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Schools: Bellevue Community College