February 19th, 2014
01:17 PM ET
10 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. it must be asked

    Did he also write a letter of apology to the police he accused of acting stupidly?

    Did he also write a letter of apology to George Zimmerman who was acquittted of any crime?

    Did he also write a letter of apology to the family of the Border Patrol agent that was killed with guns that his adminstration illegally sent into Mexico?

    Did he also write a letter of apology to the families of the four Americans killed in Benghazi for the total incompetence of his adminstration and his failure to do anything except go to bed so he was well rested for his campaign fund raiser the next day?

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

    My respect for President Obama continues to grow. A very intelligent man with progressive ideals.

    These are very good times for America.

    February 19, 2014 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  3. pitt04

    Pure class....

    February 19, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  4. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    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 Fair.
    Brrrr!! :)

    February 19, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  5. ED

    Really obama Really you take the time out to write a letter for this foolishness with all the issues going on in america

    February 19, 2014 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  6. JC

    "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"

    "Everybody" didn't jump on his case. YOU jumped on his case, Annie.

    February 19, 2014 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  7. XYZ

    When is he going to send the rest of us a handwritten apology for Obamacare?

    February 19, 2014 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  8. The Real Tom Paine

    -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.
    *********************
    Boy, you;'re spinning with that one, aren't you? Bush National Security team never agreed with the accessments the Clinton WH gave them, and cherry-picked the stuff they wanted. BTW you just proved my point: its not about lives, its about the money. Its always about the money to the Right. That explains a tax cut in wartime: thanks for the debt, jackwagon.

    February 19, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  9. tv22

    That's funny because last week they were saying that it was great that people would be "freed" from having to work for a living.

    February 19, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  10. Bobilino

    Go ahead liberal nutjobs, keep telling me how mad my insurance was when you have ABSOLUTELY no idea what it was, how much it cost, or if I have any health problems. You're just finger puppets that regurgitate what ever was fed to you that week. Next week you'll be ranting about global warming and income inequality and have no idea what you're talking about, same as this week.

    February 19, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  11. Tampa Tim

    How does he find the time to deal with the government mess the republicans created, and write an apology too?

    February 19, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  12. Tom Bukowski

    Sounds like Rubio is the schmuck here.

    February 19, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  13. jed clampett

    Senator Rubio,
    Consider yourself shunned for your inane input.

    February 19, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  14. Yes It's Not

    "We really work hard on teaching students..." While that may be true, unfortunately you don't teach your students how TO work really hard.

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

    @Donna – 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.
    -----------------------
    On your premise Dubya wasn't even smart enough to gather his own intelligence while lying to the American people about WMD's in Iraq, handing out no-bid contracts to favored companies and allowing BILLIONS in cash to just walk out of Iraq. The Dems that voted to go to war we supplied BAD DATA on which to base a decision.. the same data the GOP members of Congress were provided. And you simply can't handle the truth that Stevens was fronting a CIA op in Benghazi and it went wrong. The REAL TRUTH will never be known... but keep coming out of that bubble world every now and then... there's real people out here.

    February 19, 2014 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  16. SamSkwirl

    Doubt he wrote that himself, that's what secretaries are for, smoothing over your fumbles.

    February 19, 2014 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  17. Wilma

    Let me preface by saying I live in Florida so I am very familiar with Sen Rubio and his comment that was added at the end of the article really bothers me.

    1) It really didn't need to be added to the above article unless of course, the author is trying to provoke
    2) The comment itself is pathetic. Any apology is not pathetic. So, of course, I take Sen Rubio a little less seriously because he couldn't separate a simply apology to a professor from jobs/degrees. I think Mr Rubio would have been better served to say something like, glad to see POTUS apologized for his offensive remark, he should also apologize for...
    3) @Harold Read – This has been common practice for both Bush and Obama. Check your facts and please criticize away but do it with an even hand.

    February 19, 2014 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  18. S.B. Stein

    If a degree leads to a job, it isn't a bad degree. I think the point is that there are more likely to be jobs for those with training in advanced manufacturing skills than with art history degrees. The second point is that we need people with the skills so that manufacturers don't ship the jobs overseas. I would still encourage people to take one college class a semester if they can afford it on either something that can advance their career or advance their enjoyment in life.

    February 19, 2014 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  19. The REAL Truth...

    @ED – Really obama Really you take the time out to write a letter for this foolishness with all the issues going on in america
    ----------------------------–
    At least he took the time.. his predecessor would still be looking up the correct spellings for the content!

    February 19, 2014 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  20. kns

    Good job, Mr. President. You goofed. You apologized. Everyone wins. Except Marco Rubio. What a twit.

    February 19, 2014 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  21. GaryB

    My take from the article... Marco Rubio is the one who is absolutely pathetic. Jeeze, the President does something nice and Rubio has to try to turn it into something political.

    February 19, 2014 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  22. The Real Tom Paine

    -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.
    *****************
    Donna, money is something you can always get back. What dollar value do you assign to a human life?

    February 19, 2014 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  23. yeahright

    Harold Read

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

    ----

    As did Bush. What is your point?

    February 19, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  24. smith

    Im with fair on this one. Obama hit the nail right on the head with his remarks.

    February 19, 2014 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  25. woodie

    I think you have to be short-sighted to believe Art History doesn't have significant value to society. Mostly we hear this from people who don't know what 'art' means. All that civilization confuses them.

    February 19, 2014 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
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