February 19th, 2014
01:17 PM ET
7 months ago

Art history professor receives handwritten apology from Obama

Washington (CNN) – Ann Collins Johns decided to let President Barack Obama know that his comments last month about art history majors were inappropriate. So she fired up her computer, found the White House website and sent off an email.

A week later she got the surprise of her life when she received an email that included a handwritten apology from the President himself.

 

What did he say that was egregious enough to warrant a presidential apology? Well, last month, Obama was discussing the value of manufacturing jobs at a factory in Wisconsin when he said, "You folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree."

He went on to say that there was, "nothing wrong with an art-history degree. I love art history. I don't want to get a bunch e-mails from everybody."

But Johns, who teaches art history at the University of Texas at Austin, told CNN that she took exception.

"I sent him an email, never thinking for one second that anything would happen,” she said Wednesday morning.

Johns says she decided to be positive in her note.

"We really work hard on teaching students…who come in and take an art history survey class how to think, read and write critically, because that's what you do with art,” she wrote. “It's not just looking at a pretty picture. You have to call upon all of your resources to come up with some sort of interpretation."

She also attempted to “dispel the notion that [art history] is elitist.”

“Increasingly the discipline is much more global. We really teach the arts to a wide range of students with a wide range of backgrounds, and we are teaching the arts of Africa, Asia, South America, Central America and we have a global outlook and that tends to change the whole field."

Johns said she was shocked when she received a response from Mary Brooke, a correspondence supervisor at the White House. The email included a scan of a handwritten note from Obama.

"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."

The card is signed, "Sincerely, Barack Obama"

Obama letter art history professor PG1

Obama letter art history professor PG2

Johns said she accepts the apology. "I thought it was incredibly gracious and a lovely note."

"The poor man – he makes a glib remark,” she joked. “He's trying to be funny. He's trying to be entertaining and everybody jumps on his case and so I was immensely pleased and the note was really, really lovely."

The White House says they're not commenting on the note.

The professor debated whether to make the apology public, but then discussed it with her family and students who encouraged her to post the note.

"I actually thought for a while about whether I should make it public. I talked to my students about it, and they thought this is amazing. I thought this could be a teachable moment and bring this up for discussion.”

She said she posted it on Facebook, where it got picked up by a blog in New York.

"I'm very pleased that it has gotten a lot of press and has stimulated discussion,” she said.

Before joining the art history world, Johns said she was a geologist for more than a decade. Laughing, she added art history has come a long way from her days as a student.

"In my day it was the 'girls with pearls' who took art history,” she said. “But it's not like that anymore."

While Johns has accepted Obama's apology, some political figures are taking issue with the gesture.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, tweeted Wednesday: "Pathetic Obama apology to art history prof. We do need more degrees that lead to #jobs"


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (103 Responses)
  1. Gurgyl

    It is the reason I told you this President is the BEST PRESIDENT in USA history. He is a jewel. True.

    February 19, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  2. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Where's Our $24 Billion?

    Sounds like a sincere apology and Prof. Johns seems amused by the letter.

    February 19, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  3. Donna

    Now can he please write hand written apologies to the millions of Americans he lied to about losing their healthcare plans, doctors and hospitals? That offense was FAR more damaging.

    February 19, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  4. Reggie53

    LOL.....because he responded to an email he is the best president ever. An email response does not cover all the jobs that have been lost and that are needed to get our American people back to work. So please give me a break with this garbage that CNN is reporting.

    February 19, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  5. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Where's Our $24 Billion?

    How about Bush write a letter to every American for lying the country into war and racking up insurmountable debt.

    February 19, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  6. Silence DoGood

    President Obama is a class act all the way. Thank God for our president.

    February 19, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  7. Harold Read

    But Obama sends pre-printed form letters to the parents of soldiers that died in battle.

    February 19, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  8. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Where's Our $24 Billion?

    Donna
    Now can he please write hand written apologies to the millions of Americans he lied to about losing their healthcare plans, doctors and hospitals? That offense was FAR more damaging.
    --------------------------------------
    4500+ DEAD American soldiers is FAR more damaging than people losing their crappy insurance policies.

    February 19, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  9. The Real Tom Paine

    You know, the man makes a nice gesture, one he did not have to do, and the usual people are sitting around complaining. Its really amazing watching the level of hatred spewing forth from the usual sources, sources that seem to let their hatred define them. Its really sad they do nothing else.

    February 19, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  10. Lynda/Minnesota

    "The poor man – he makes a glib remark,” she joked. “He's trying to be funny. He's trying to be entertaining and everybody jumps on his case and so I was immensely pleased and the note was really, really lovely."

    Yep. All day ... everyday.

    24/7

    For this particular President, anyway.

    February 19, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  11. FrankinSD

    So this is the "subhuman mongrel" that we keep hearing about? The name-callers and hate-mongers on the right should be ashamed of themselves. But because they are so obviously shameless, it's up to the rest of us to simply shun them at every turn.

    February 19, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  12. Silence DoGood

    @Harold Read
    But Obama sends pre-printed form letters to the parents of soldiers that died in battle.
    -----------–
    This is better than Bush who was personally responsible for soldiers dying in battle based on lies.

    February 19, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  13. Fair is Fair

    The good professor needs to lighten up. Obama was just making the (very valid) point that a career in the trades is just as valuable as a college degree. Such thin skin.

    February 19, 2014 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  14. The Real Tom Paine

    -Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Where's Our $24 Billion?

    Donna
    Now can he please write hand written apologies to the millions of Americans he lied to about losing their healthcare plans, doctors and hospitals? That offense was FAR more damaging.
    ------------–
    4500+ DEAD American soldiers is FAR more damaging than people losing their crappy insurance policies.
    ******************
    Hey, money is ALWAYS more important to Donna than human life.

    February 19, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  15. The Real Tom Paine

    -Fair is Fair

    The good professor needs to lighten up. Obama was just making the (very valid) point that a career in the trades is just as valuable as a college degree. Such thin skin.
    *****************
    Agreed, but its HER discipline that was being used as an example. Understandable reaction on her part, but I agree it was a little thin-skinned.

    February 19, 2014 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  16. ARMYCSM

    It takes a BIG man to apologize for a perceive wrong to another. Mr. President, you are the Man!!!

    February 19, 2014 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  17. Rudy NYC

    Harold Read

    But Obama sends pre-printed form letters to the parents of soldiers that died in battle.
    -------------------------------
    Yeah? Did you know that Old McDonald is a really bad speller?

    February 19, 2014 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  18. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Where's Our $24 Billion?

    Fair is Fair
    The good professor needs to lighten up. Obama was just making the (very valid) point that a career in the trades is just as valuable as a college degree. Such thin skin.
    --------------------------–
    We're eye 2 eye on this one Fair.

    February 19, 2014 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  19. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    The poor man – he makes a glib remark,” she joked. “He's trying to be funny. He's trying to be entertaining and everybody jumps on his case and so I was immensely pleased and the note was really, really lovely."
    -------------------------------------------------
    Well then why did you make a big deal out of it if you knew he was just trying to be funny?!
    I mean, you seem to be a lovely lady, and you seem to get what he was doing,so why did you write him in the first place?
    Like Lynda said, 24/7 with this man. 24/7 with THIS particular president.
    Good grief people!

    February 19, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  20. Donna

    Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Where's Our $24 Billion?
    Donna
    Now can he please write hand written apologies to the millions of Americans he lied to about losing their healthcare plans, doctors and hospitals? That offense was FAR more damaging.
    ------------–
    4500+ DEAD American soldiers is FAR more damaging than people losing their crappy insurance policies.
    -–

    Looney left and their selective memory.... Most of the intellignce Bush relied on was gathered during the Bill Clinton administration and many, many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton voted to go to war. She believed her husband's intelligence too I guess. So by your standards she lied and is a murderer too. But we already knew that because of her role in Benghazi.

    As for crappy insurance policies, that is what they were forced to buy on the exchanges to replace the policies Obama and the Democrats screwed them out of. They now pay 2-3 times more for all sorts of coverages they don't need and can't use, just so all their money can go to pay for free coverage for other people. Don't worry, the American people know who screwed them over. You'll be hearing from them in November.

    February 19, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  21. Tampa Tim

    Marco Rubio should apologize to every Floridian for his ineptness, lack of understanding, and representing the billionaire baggers, not the voters.

    February 19, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  22. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Class act our President is.
    Really and truly a class act.
    So proud.

    February 19, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  23. The REAL Truth...

    @Donna – Now can he please write hand written apologies to the millions of Americans he lied to about losing their healthcare plans, doctors and hospitals? That offense was FAR more damaging.
    ------------------------
    Sure.. when Dubya does the same for the 4500 US Military killed while in office, and oh!.. how about a few more to the 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians ?? All about perspective sweetie.

    February 19, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  24. Gurgyl

    Money is important to damn rethuglicans–not the life. These GOP cult is extinct pretty soon like dinosaurs.

    February 19, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  25. Tampa Tim

    Harold Read – Do you just make that crap up?

    February 19, 2014 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
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