Obama: I’m sorry for art history degree jab

An art history professor got more than just the satisfaction of telling President Obama that he was wrong to dismiss art history as a less lucrative career than something like manufacturing in a recent speech.

She got an apology.


Speaking about job skills training in Waukesha, Wis., last month, the president told the audience that, “folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.”

“Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree -- I love art history,” the president said. “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.”

In response, University of Texas at Austin art history professor Ann Collins Johns wrote a letter to the president via the White House website. While she doesn’t have a copy of the original, she told the blog Hyperallergenic that the 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,” she said.

She was floored to receive not just a response from the White House, but a handwritten note from Mr. Obama himself.

“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,” he wrote. “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.”

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.