Obama apologizes to Austin professor for painting art history as irrelevant

FILE PHOTO: President Obama gives the Hook 'Em Horns sign at University of Texas speech in August 2010 (Charlie L. Harper III/KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — President Obama wrote a personal apology to an Austin art professor after she objected to his recent remarks on the economy that she said slammed her field as irrelevant, according to Politico and the art blog Hyperallergic.

Speaking at a General Electric plant in Milwaukee last month, Obama said that “folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree,” touching off criticism in the art history world about why the president would suggest that an art history degree is worthless.

So Ann Collins Johns, a professor of art history at the University of Texas-Austin, got onto the White House website and sent a little note through the site’s public cor section on Jan. 31 explaining all the positive contributions art historians make to the world.

Two weeks later, she got a shocking answer – a personal apology from the president, who she assumed was far too busy to even read her emails, much less pen a personal answer, according to a post on her Facebook page.

“Now I’m totally guilty about wasting his time,” wrote Johns, a self-proclaimed Obama supporter.

“I felt as if his reply was very gracious, and I’m delighted,” she told KXAN. “What’s been really fun about this is sharing this with my students.”

Obama’s letter, posted on the Hyperallergic blog and picked up by national news agencies such as Politico.com, explained that he only meant to encourage students to pursue technical or skilled labor careers if a four-year degree is not in the cards for them. The note was scanned into an email.

“Let me apologize 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 otherwise have missed,” Obama wrote, according to the letter published on the blog. “So please pass on my apology for the glib remark 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 them to an honorable career.

“Sincerely, Barack Obama.”

The White House asked Johns if she would like to receive the original hand-written copy. She said yes, and it is now on its way.


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