After President Barack Obama made a comment about majoring in art history, art history professor Ann Johns sent the White House a response refuting his statement. What Johns didn’t expect was to receive a handwritten apology from Obama.
In a speech in January, Obama said people who obtain technical degrees or training might earn more money than people who graduate with art history degrees.
“You folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree,” Obama said.
Johns, who posted Obama’s apology letter on her Facebook last week, said she was “stunned” to receive a personal letter from Obama and does not think he was being negative in his remarks.
“I’d like to think of it as the beginning of dialogue about the value of a degree in the humanities and less as an apology,” Johns said. “We do emphasize critical thinking, reading and writing skills, and our students become excellent researchers, writers and presenters. This gives them the skills to pursue a wide variety of career choices.”
The apology letter, in which Obama said, “art history was one of [his] favorite subjects in high school,” was well received by Johns and other professors in the art and art history department. Jack Risley, art history professor and chair of the department, said he was pleased with the president’s response and the positive attention it is bringing the University.
“It’s humbling for anyone to apologize, let alone a president,” Risley said. “In responding to Dr. Ann Johns, the president draws attention to the unrivaled concentration of art and scholarship that exists at UT and the state of Texas … The arts are going to be part of our future. That is a given.”
Art history sophomore Stephanie Gardea said she does not see degree choice as a major factor in post-graduate success.
“In my eyes, I see it as really however you make it,” Gardea said. “You need to be willing to put yourself out there and get involved to have a better career outcome after graduation, whether you’re in fine arts, engineering or manufacturing.”
Art history students in Johns’ and art history professor Julia Guernsey’s Art Historical Methods classes sent another response to Obama on Friday. The students also listed their post-graduate plans, including law school at Harvard, medical school, Teach for America and an Islamic studies program.
“We feel strongly that our education as art historians prepares us to do a variety of things, many of which are vital to the educational well-being of our country, and some of which are also politically, socially and economically charged,” students told Obama in the response.