Obama sends personal apology to art historian for snub; Rubio calls it 'pathetic'

McClatchy Washington BureauFebruary 19, 2014 

President Obama has apologized for dissing America's art history majors during a speech last month in which he extolled manufacturing as a more lucrative career path.

According to the website, hyperallergic.com, University of Texas at Austin professor Ann Collins Johns was "just as peeved as many people were about President Barack Obama’s knock on art history majors," and wrote him a letter telling him so.

Two weeks later, she got back a handwritten note from the commander in chief himself: 

"Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff remarks," Obama wrote Johns. "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."

In remarks at GE's Energy Waukesha Gas Engines Facility in Waukesha, Wisc., Obama was talking about expanding job skills programs in hopes of getting more students to pursue careers in manufacturing.

"A lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career," Obama 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. Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree -- I love art history. 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."

Johns, according to her bio on the university's website, "focuses on the Gothic/Renaissance art and architecture of Siena and the role of monasticism in the arts of this period."

Obama's apology ticked off Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who called it "pathetic.

"We do need more degrees that lead to #jobs," Rubio wrote.

The Washington Post says Rubio's retort is related to his presidential ambitions and his need to win back conservatives soured by his leading role in getting an immigration overhaul passed in the Senate.

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