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Obama writes letter of apology to Texas professor Ann Johns for art history comments

Date

Farzad Mashhood

One for the books: President Barack Obama has written to a university professor apologising for comments he made about the value of Art History degrees.

One for the books: President Barack Obama has written to a university professor apologising for comments he made about the value of Art History degrees. Photo: Reuters

 A University of Texas art history lecturer was checking her email last week when an unusual sender came up: The White House.

Enclosed was a scan of a handwritten apology letter from President Barack Obama for comments he made last month about art history degrees, which set off a flurry of objection for apparently devaluing the field.

’’I sat and stared at my computer for five minutes,’’ said Ann Johns, a senior lecturer in UT’s Department of Art and Art History.

In the letter, 110 handwritten words on White House stationary, Mr Obama apologised for his ’’off-the-cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history.’’

Mr Obama made the offending remarks in a January 30 speech in Wisconsin about expanding manufacturing job training programs.

’’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,’’ Mr Obama said.

He immediately backpedalled, too, saying there’s ’’nothing wrong with [an] art history degree. I love art history. I don’t want a bunch of emails from everybody.’’

Well, he got those emails. One of them came from Professor Johns, who defended the academic and real-world value of the subject. She doesn’t have a copy of the email, having typed it into an online form, but remembers it as being positive, trying to explain the value of art history.

The letter from President Obama read: 

Ann,

Let me apologise for my off-the-cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history. As it so happens, 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 have otherwise missed.

So please pass on my apology for the glib remarks to the entire department, and 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 to an honorable career.

Sincerely, Barack Obama.

Three days after getting the reply, she posted it on her public Facebook page, hoping to share what she described as a gracious response from Mr Obama. Most of the response has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly among her colleagues and students. Naturally, she’s also received the occasional negative comment from ’’cranks or trolls’’.

Professor Johns said she was trying to dispel the notion that art history is an elitist field, explaining it teaches critical thinking and writing skills useful for many careers.

’’The discipline is much broader, and the skill sets we teach to both major- and non-major-students are very important,’’ Professor Johns said.

In an interview with The New York Times, Johns noted she’ll be receiving the original copy of the letter by ’’snail mail’’. That sparked negative comments from some posters who complained she was defaming the US Postal Service.

’’For one moment, I had a keen insight into what it’s like to be president,’’ Professor Johns said with a chuckle.

Cox News Service

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