President Barack Obama, maligned by journalists and humanities scholars for a quip he made on the value of an art history degree, responded to one professor with a gracious note, written by hand on White House stationary.
Speaking to a group of young people on a recent trip to Wisconsin, Obama emphasized the importance of skilled trades in what seemed like a cheap jab at humanities scholars.
"[A] lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career,” he said. "But I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree."
He tried to preempt an attack by liberal arts people by quickly adding that there was “nothing wrong with an art history degree,” so he didn’t “want to get a bunch of emails from everybody."
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But the emails did indeed come pouring in.
One came from University of Texas art historian Ann Collins Johns, a Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Italian Art specialist. Johns sent the president a missive through the WhiteHouse.gov website.
Johns told The Huffington Post that she never expected a handwritten note from the president in response to her post, which she deleted.
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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.
Johns, who is an avid Obama supporter, told the Huffington Post that she “appreciate[d] the message” Obama was trying to send in recognizing the worth of manufacturing jobs.
"But I felt it was important for him to know that art history is no longer just the purview of 'the girls with pearls' (as we called it when I was an undergrad, a long time ago)," she added.