The professor, Ann Collins Johns of the University of Texas-Austin, told arts website Hyperallergic that she was inspired to write to President Obama after the he made a remark at a General Electric factory in Wisconsin last month, saying Americans could make "a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree."
Johns, who describes herself as a fan of the president, wrote a note to Obama focusing on all the positives of an art history degree. She told Hyperallergic that while she didn't save a copy of her original email, "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. I emphasized that we challenge students to think, read, and write critically."
Obama sent Johns a scanned handwritten note after receiving her email. The note reads:
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.
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.
(Click here to see the handwritten note.)
Obama seemed to know he might get some complaints after making the comment. At the factory, he said, "Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree -- I love art history. So 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 the training that you need."
Johns told the New York Times that she's happy with the apology but she's still waiting for the actual letter to arrive in her mailbox. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxiously checking my snail mail every day,” she told the Times.
Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).
Related: Obama risks art historian support:
- President Obama
- art history