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Originally published Saturday, June 19, 2010 at 10:02 PM

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Marysville School Board member should resign over e-mail, some say

Marysville School Board member Michael Kundu will be asked to resign Monday after writing what fellow board members and others charge is a racist e-mail.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Marysville School Board member Michael Kundu will be asked to resign Monday after writing what fellow board members and others charge is a racist e-mail.

Kundu wrote in a June 3 e-mail that "east Asians and their descendants averaged larger brain size, higher intelligence and social organization than Anglo-Saxons and their descendants, and that Anglo-Saxons, in turn, averaged higher scores in those dimensions than did Africans and their descendants."

Society, he wrote, is "increasing educational and social opportunities to 'offset' the racial achievement gap."

The e-mail, citing research by Western Ontario University professor John Philippe Rushton, was sent to board member Chris Nation and to Kyle Kinoshita, executive director of teaching and learning for the Marysville School District and the district superintendent's administrative assistant.

The e-mail came after conversations about how to raise test scores in the district so they would be closer to state averages.

"I was offended by [the e-mail]," said Sherri Crenshaw, the board president. "I'm shocked that in this day and age some people have these beliefs."

Crenshaw said at least three of the five board members will ask Kundu to step down at Monday night's regular board meeting.

Kundu, though, will not attend Monday's meeting because he is in Frederick, Md., until Friday for his regular, full-time job with FEMA's external-affairs department.

Last Monday, the Tulalip Tribes, the NAACP and the Hispanic Commission urged Kundu to resign.

"I was very surprised and astonished as well as angry" to hear about the e-mail, said Mel Sheldon Jr., Tulalip tribal chairman. "For those struggling in school, it doesn't give them very much hope."

Nearly two dozen state representatives also signed a letter reprimanding Kundu for the e-mail and recommending he apologize for his actions.

"You at least owe your students a sincere apology for your inappropriate and injurious claims," the letter said. "We expect that you will take immediate steps to engage the young people of your district in a direct and unambiguous conversation about your commitment to them and to their education."

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On Friday, Kundu said he is deliberating whether he should step down. He said he's heard that in the past week some Marysville students are asking how their race might affect their ability to reach high academic goals.

"This is a tragic and unintended consequence of my remarks," Kundu said in an e-mail interview with The Seattle Times. "And I am affected by that in a significant way and think my resignation will help to defray that in some way."

But Kundu also said there are reasons to keep his position:

"I am ... being asked privately by a number of people, including other board members across Washington, to stand up against special-interest groups so that a precedent will not be set which might impact future discussion of difficult controversial subjects like intelligent design, sexual education, religious freedom in schools, etc."

He also said he's since looked deeper into Rushton, the psychology professor on whose research Kundu's comments were based. Rushton has come under fire throughout his career for asserting — in addition to intelligence being based on race — that men are more intelligent than women.

"I've learned that he was definitely racist and used very questionable methods," Kundu told the Marysville Globe. "I would not have brought up his work if I'd known then what I know now."

Still, Sheldon, the tribal chairman, said he intends to begin a recall campaign if Kundu declines to resign.

Kundu told The Times he is not racist and has never exhibited discriminatory behavior to a minority group since he took office in 2003.

"Over the years, I have come to personally feel that racism is the cause of most of the most devastating conflicts in society, and I adamantly reject that one race is superior or inferior over any other," he wrote, adding he has "championed diversity" as a school board member.

Kundu listed his contributions to minorities, which included seeking removal of a Confederate flag from a high school and pushing for the inclusion of Tulalip cultural content for all district elementary schools.

Don Hatch, a council member for the Tulalip Tribes and a former school board member, worked with Kundu for four years and said he never felt Kundu was racist.

"That's the thing that blew me away," Hatch said. "I was really devastated with the e-mail he sent out."

Hatch said the healing process for the community can't begin until Kundu resigns.

"He has to go," Hatch said. "He has to go."

Carly Flandro: 206-464-2108 or cflandro@seattletimes.com

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