Obama Apologizes to Art History Teacher for His 'Glib' Remarks

Wednesday, 19 Feb 2014 09:41 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Image: Obama Apologizes to Art History Teacher for His 'Glib' Remarks
President Barack Obama sent a handwritten note to Ann Collins Johns, an art professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
President Barack Obama has apologized for his "glib" comments late last month that encouraged students to avoid art history degrees in favor of practical skills and training that will get them high-paying jobs.

Ann Collins Johns, an art professor at the University of Texas at Austin, received a handwritten letter from the president to apologize for his statements at a General Electric plant in Wisconsin last month, The New York Post reported Tuesday.

Obama had told the plant's workers that "a lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career, but I promise you, folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree."

He quickly qualified the statement: "Nothing wrong with [an] art history degree. I love art history. I don’t want to get a bunch of ­emails from everybody. I’m just saying, you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education, as long as you get the skills and training that you need.”

Johns was not satisfied with the president's explanation, so she sent him a letter through the White House website. She told art website Hyperallergic that she was surprised to get an email back on Feb. 12 from the White House.

"I’m pretty sure that my email was not so much one of outrage at his statement, but rather a 'look at what we do well' statement," Johns said. "I emphasized that we challenge students to think, read, and write critically. I also stressed how inclusive our discipline is these days (even though my own specialty is medieval and Renaissance Italy)."

Johns said the email contained a copy of the handwritten letter from Obama on White House letterhead, which was then scanned and sent. The White House let her know that it was sending her a hard copy of the letter as well.

Johns said on her Facebook page that she "loves" Obama and did not expect "that THE MAN HIMSELF would write me an apology. So, now I'm totally guilty about wasting his time."

In his apology, Obama told Johns that he was "making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history."

He went on to tell her that "art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it has helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life that I might otherwise have missed."

Obama also asked her to pass on his apology for his "glib remark" to the UT art department, which she heads, and to "understand that I was trying to encourage young people who may not be predisposed to a four-year college experience to be open to technical training that can lead them to an honorable career.”

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