February 19th, 2014
01:17 PM ET
8 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. Reggie53

    We are seeing the kool-aid drinkers for Obama. I am sure the reason for the support for Obama is because you are receiving your monhtly government checks. Keep it up because the well will run dry very soon. I hope Obama will continue sending you your checks from his own pocket.

    February 19, 2014 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  2. HMMMMM

    Marco Rubio...you're a prime example of why the Republican and Tea Party is struggle to gain it's footing. This was not about trying to take digs at the President. He messed up and apologized; personally to her. Yet you see it as a political move for your failing career.

    February 19, 2014 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  3. Tampa Tim

    Jeb Bush is responsible for signing the Koch/Alec stand your ground law, criticizing the president when Jeb erroneously thought the embassy to the Vatican was being closed. But the worst thing he ever did, (outside of the 2000 election) was to give Marco Rubio his start in politics.

    February 19, 2014 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  4. Kimo

    Go to law school like Marco Rubio so you can learn how to represent whatever side is paying you the most regardless of right or wrong. It's the perfect training for a politician.

    February 19, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  5. Rudy NYC

    Donna wrote:

    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.
    ----------------------------------
    Actually, the Bush administration was also likely acting on the fact that the U.S. provided Saddam with weapons throughout the 1980s for his skirmishes with Iran. They knew what types of weapons were sent to Saddam. After the Gulf War, the U.S. cut him out of the loop.

    The U.S. had also provided weapons to the Taliban as they fought for a decade against the Russians in Afghanistan. These facts are quickly forgotten, but not by level headed people deciding over whether or not to arm rebels in Syria. They have a habit of being turned against us.

    February 19, 2014 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  6. Tampa Tim

    We are seeing a lot of anger towards Obama from the meth and Mountain Dew crowd. But, what can they do when their brain is fried?

    February 19, 2014 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  7. Larry L

    Interesting that Rubio would mention jobs. His political party has done nothing but obstruct progress towards ending the recession since January, 2009.

    February 19, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  8. Insert sarcastic remark here

    I just love how anything positive Obama does so many people on the right simply counter with a negative such as 'but he still did such and such" or "now if he would just x, y, and z". Keep up, guys. All you are doing is giving independents such as myself reassurance that voting against the Republicans is the right thing to do.

    February 19, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  9. J Russ

    apologizing for telling the truth?

    February 19, 2014 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  10. Alex

    I bet that President Obama did not write it, it was put on his desk to sign. President's do not write speeches, letters, debate answers, or news articles. Everything is scripted for them.

    February 19, 2014 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  11. No one

    Not that mine is any better, but wow that handwriting...

    February 19, 2014 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  12. liberal disease

    this is the first time Obama has made sense in 5 years

    February 19, 2014 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    Let's face it college is not for everyone.

    February 19, 2014 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  14. KumQuat

    It was a gracious gesture, and the art professor and her class really appreciated it. Interestingly, the Republican snot Rubio, in typical fashion, takes offense. To him, it is "pathetic". I guess Rubio would just flip the art professor the bird. That kind of hatred and feigned indignity is the reason the Republican Party is so distrusted these days.

    February 19, 2014 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  15. Monet

    At least, the president has proven again how he is in touch with people like us by taking his time in writing a letter to this prof. Senator Rubio, you are the pathetic one, you should be ashame of yourself by making this issue a politics. Let me remind the readers that I am not a democrat nor republican. I just wish politician should know better what the real meaning of humility. Senator Rubio , you should apologize for your action. You are a senator, you represent the people of Florida, what you have shown is shameful and pathetic,

    February 19, 2014 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  16. GreyMan

    Who really does care about an Art History degree? That's a degree that you'll be paying for for a long time.

    February 19, 2014 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  17. Donna

    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?
    ---

    Hmmm... thousands have died in Afghanistan thanks to Obama so I suggest you ask him for their value. The idiot committed more troops on the very day he announced their withdrawal. Obama botched the Iraq drawdown by not negotiating a status of forces agreement and now looks to be botching Afghanistan as well. So thanks to Obama's incompetence, all of the gains made in Iraq and Afghanistan will soon be down the drain. The incompetence of the Obama adminsitration both home and abroad is astonishing. Failure is his stock in trade.

    February 19, 2014 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  18. mkjp

    I guess Rubio will be the next one to get a complaint, insinuating that not all college degrees lead to gainful employment.

    While everyone should absolutely study whatever they want in college, it is fact that certain courses of study lead to jobs and others do not. There are huge differences in pay scale for different degrees as well. It is certainly true that art history teaches people to think critically and to write well and all of those skills. The fact remains, however, that it is a lot harder to get a job in art history than it is to get one in computer science and programming at the moment.

    February 19, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  19. sly

    I agree with Rubio – art, literature, music and athletics have no place in our educational system. School is to get jobs, to make money for America.

    Science especially should be eliminated at all schools – I don't need no liberal pansie trying to teach me about fake dinosauer bones. 'Evolution'? Most of us know nothing evolves – you ever see a butterfly turn into an eagle? Foolish.

    February 19, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  20. Maryellen

    Marco Rubio is a very small man. Imagine him calling someone else pathetic.

    February 19, 2014 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  21. Tampa Tim

    Reggie53 – You seem confused about those of us who work and support President Obama. I don't receive government checks, but I know who stands up for those of use who actually work, and it sure as he'll isn't the GOP.

    February 19, 2014 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  22. The Real Tom Paine

    -Reggie53

    We are seeing the kool-aid drinkers for Obama. I am sure the reason for the support for Obama is because you are receiving your monhtly government checks. Keep it up because the well will run dry very soon. I hope Obama will continue sending you your checks from his own pocket.
    *****************
    Speaking of kool-aid, where did you get you marching orders from today? By the way, junior, we all have paying jobs, which more than what you probably have, but since you still live in the basement I'm sure you're not feeling the pressure. Still waiting for more orders?

    February 19, 2014 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  23. smith

    @Silence & Dutch-Bush didn`t kill any of our soliders, enemy combatants did. Also, the military personnel involved in Iraq and Afghanistan volunteered to go to these wars.

    February 19, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  24. Tampa Tim

    Wingnuts who throw around the word "idiot" should have been around from January 2001 through January 2009. Now there was an idiot.

    February 19, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  25. The Real Tom Paine

    -Donna

    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?
    -

    Hmmm... thousands have died in Afghanistan thanks to Obama so I suggest you ask him for their value. The idiot committed more troops on the very day he announced their withdrawal. Obama botched the Iraq drawdown by not negotiating a status of forces agreement and now looks to be botching Afghanistan as well. So thanks to Obama's incompetence, all of the gains made in Iraq and Afghanistan will soon be down the drain. The incompetence of the Obama adminsitration both home and abroad is astonishing. Failure is his stock in trade.
    **************
    You did not answer the question. what dollar value do you assign to a human life? Does it matter to you if that life is conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat? For once, answer a question without resorting to your patented talking points.

    February 19, 2014 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
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