Bellevue College President Jerry Weber and Gayle Colston Barge, a vice president, resigned Wednesday, two days after the college announced they would be leaving as a consequence of Barge’s decision to alter a campus mural of two Japanese American children in a World War II incarceration camp.
The college’s board of trustees voted unanimously to accept Weber’s and Barge’s resignations, effective immediately. Barge was vice president of institutional advancement.
Provost Kristen Jones will serve as acting president, the college said Monday.
Barge, who last week was placed on leave, acknowledged two weeks ago that she removed a reference in the description accompanying the art installation “Never Again Is Now,” created by Seattle artist Erin Shigaki. The project was brought to Bellevue College as the school recognized the Day of Remembrance, which commemorates the day President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the imprisonment of Japanese Americans.
One sentence in a paragraph about Japanese immigrants and their connection to Bellevue was whited out: “After decades of anti-Japanese agitation, led by Eastside businessman Miller Freeman and others, the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans included the 60 families (300 individuals) who farmed Bellevue.”
In a statement, Barge apologized for the incident, but has not said why she wanted the sentence removed. She has not responded to requests for interviews, and representatives for the public college have not said whether they have learned of Barge’s motivation.
“It is with a heavy heart that I resign my position of vice president of institutional advancement,” Barge said in the statement, which was read by Jones during the Wednesday meeting. “It has been an honor to serve the college for the past six years. I sincerely apologize for any hardship that my actions have caused. At this time, I believe it is in both my best interests and the interests of the college for me to step down.”
Barge was put on paid leave last week, a personnel action taken after a Seattle Times story detailed the incident.
Weber sent a message of apology to the Bellevue College community Feb. 24.
In a statement also read at the Wednesday meeting, Weber called the events of the last two weeks “regrettable.” College officials don’t believe Weber was involved with the defacement or knew anything about it until after it occurred, according to board of trustees Chair Rich Fukutaki.
“While I was not personally involved with the decision to deface the mural, I recognize that this event happened on my watch,” Weber said in the statement, which was read by Fukutaki. “Given the impact of this event, I believe it is in the best interest of the college for me to step down.”
The defacement was met with swift backlash from student groups, faculty and community organizations. The Seattle chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League called the act “tantamount to agreement with the hate speech of decades past.”
On Tuesday, hundreds of people attended a ceremony near the mural to show support for Shigaki, whose father was born in an Idaho incarceration camp, and the college’s Asian American and Pacific Islander students. More than a fifth of the college’s 29,120 students and 1,508 employees are Asian and Pacific Islander, according to college demographic data.
“It was beautiful,” Shigaki said Wednesday. “I was moved by the number of people from my community and Bellevue College students who turned out. Remembering Japanese American incarcerees and other victims of detention in a thoughtful way was a powerful show of solidarity.”
Shigaki’s artist description mentions Miller Freeman, whose anti-Japanese comments and actions have been documented in newspaper archives and history books. He was active in publishing, politics and development, formed the state’s Anti-Japanese League and told The Seattle Daily Times in 1942 that Japanese Americans came to the U.S. to colonize the Pacific Coast for Japan. He died in 1955.
He is the father of Kemper Freeman, who built the original Bellevue Square, and grandfather of Kemper Freeman Jr., the founder of Kemper Development Co., which owns and manages the Bellevue Collection.
In the 2018-2019 school year, Kemper Freeman and his wife Betty were among donors listed as giving between $10,000 and $24,999 to the Bellevue College Foundation, according to the foundation’s financial report. No one at Kemper Development has been made available for comment.
Weber was chosen as Bellevue College president in 2017, and before that was president of College of Lake County in Illinois for eight years. His salary in 2018 was $267,500, the eighth highest for a college president in Washington.
Barge was hired as vice president of institutional advancement, charged with fundraising and marketing outreach, in 2014. In a post from the college announcing her hire, Barge is described as a “subject-matter expert on topics related to African American women and work-life balance.” Her salary in 2018 was $130,200.
In her new role as acting president, Jones’ salary will be $273,261.