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U. Penn Cancels Class of Professor who Used Nazi Gesture, Students Still Want Him Fired

Penn canceled Anthropology professor and Penn Museum co-curator Robert Schuyler’s classes for the spring semester as he faces widespread backlash and continued calls for his firing for his use of a Nazi phrase and gesture at a conference last week.

Anthropology Department Chair Kathleen Morrison confirmed in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian on Monday that ANTH 220: “Historical Archaeology Laboratory,” the course Schuyler was scheduled to teach, will no longer be offered in the spring. Students praised the move, but many are urging the University to take further action and fire him. A petition calling for Schuyler’s termination has garnered more than 300 signatures as of Monday evening. 

“Given that the situation at the [Society for Historical Archaeology] plenary session involved the bullying and attempted silencing of a graduate student, I felt that professor Schuyler should be kept away from students,” Morrison wrote.

The Anthropology Department and the School of Arts and Sciences have also released statements condemning his actions, but the University has remained silent about whether Schuyler will be fired. 

University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy declined to comment on the petition or whether the University is considering firing Schuyler. MacCarthy wrote in a statement to the DP on Sunday that Penn is “initiating a review to determine the appropriate course [of] action.”

At a Society for Historical Archaeology conference on Wednesday, Schuyler was granted permission to briefly interrupt invited speaker Liz Quinlan, a University of York Ph.D. candidate, who was speaking about improving accessibility for virtual conferences. When Schuyler began asking about how the pandemic affected membership renewals for 2021, Quinlan attempted to redirect the conversation to the original topic. Schuyler then performed the Nazi salute and used the Nazi victory phrase “Sieg heil.”

Schuyler previously told the DP that he believed his speech was being suppressed, and his decision to use the phrase and gesture was meant to reference the limitations on free speech in Nazi Germany. He added that he does not endorse Nazism.

Schuyler did not respond to a request for comment on the petition and calls for his firing.

School of Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Fluharty released a statement Monday condemning Schuyler’s use of the Nazi phrase and salute. The statement did not say whether Schuyler will be fired, or if the school is considering other disciplinary action.

“Such behavior has no place in our academic discourse, which aims to celebrate the open exchange of ideas in an environment that promotes civility, respect, and inclusion,” Fluharty wrote. “Nazi symbols are antithetical to our values as an institution.” 

Penn Hillel also released a statement to members Monday evening condemning Schuyler’s actions and offering support to students.

“The use of Nazi symbols and imagery trivializes one of the darkest periods in both Jewish and world history, and has no place in our campus discourse,” Hillel’s co-presidents wrote. “We have been in contact with our colleagues at the University to express our concern, and they are conducting a review to determine the appropriate course of action.”

Quinlan filed a complaint to the SHA after the conference, writing that being “spoken to with such vitriol and anger by a senior researcher in my field is demoralizing, embarrassing, and deeply upsetting.”

To some students, the decision to cancel Schuyler’s class does not go far enough. 

College junior Dana Raphael launched the petition calling for Schuyler’s termination on Monday morning after she saw the video of Schuyler using the Nazi salute. Addressed to the University, President Amy Gutmann, and Provost Wendell Pritchett, the petition states that “Penn must take disciplinary action to demonstrate that intolerable behavior has consequences, and to ensure that this does not happen again.”

Raphael said that as a Jewish woman and the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, she was outraged that Schuyler would use a Nazi phrase and salute in any context. She said that the Anthropology Department was right to cancel Schuyler’s class for next semester and praised Fluharty’s statement, as well as the Penn Museum’s statement denouncing Schuyler’s actions. She added, however, that Penn still must fire Schuyler.

“It’s the University’s responsibility as a well-renowned scholarly institution to take action in the right direction and to make sure that Robert Schuyler is no longer a professor at this institution,” Raphael said. “Condemnation is not enough.”

College junior Jonah Lourie was registered for ANTH 220 until he received an email Monday alerting him that the course was canceled. Lourie, who is Jewish, said he thought the department made the right decision to cancel Schuyler’s class.

“It’s pretty clear at this point in history that making any Nazi gestures or anything of the sort is considered hateful, and I think it should have been dealt with with consequences, so I was happy to see that the school took action against him,” Lourie said.

Lourie said he is not sure whether he wants Schuyler to be fired, but hopes the administration is at least considering it. He added that he would be unlikely to take a class with Schuyler in the future if he remains a faculty member.

A College junior who requested anonymity out of fear of academic retaliation said that they were also pleased with the decision as a first step from Penn. The student had been registered for ANTH 220 this spring, and, like Lourie, does not plan on taking a class with Schuyler again if he returns to teaching.

The College junior added that while they believe this is a promising action by the department, they hope that Penn will fire Schuyler.

College senior Jacob Reis, who was also registered for ANTH 220, said he supports the decision to cancel Schuyler’s class. Reis said that canceling the class gives the University time to conduct an investigation and determine the appropriate consequences for Schuyler, including termination.

“Yes, we’re disappointed that [the class] is not available, but under the circumstances, I think we’re willing to sacrifice not learning ANTH 220 as Penn investigates this further,” Reis said.