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Penn Professor Retires after Nazi Phrase and Salute Backlash

University of Pennsylvania Professor Robert Schuyler has retired after facing backlash for his use of a Nazi salute and phrase during a virtual archaeology conference earlier this month.

Anthropology Department Chair Kathleen Morrison announced Schuyler’s retirement in a tweet on Jan. 25, and School of Arts and Sciences Dean Steven J. Fluharty’s Jan. 13 statement condemning Schuyler’s use of the Nazi phrase and salute was updated on Monday to reflect that he has retired from faculty. Prior to his retirement, Penn canceled the course Schuyler was set to teach this semester.  

Morrison declined to comment on Schuyler’s retirement to The Daily Pennsylvanian, but she previously told the DP that she found his actions “appalling,” adding that she does not think it is healthy for him to be in contact with students. 

University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy also declined to comment on Schuyler’s retirement, referring the DP to Fluharty’s statement. Schuyler did not respond to a request for comment.

At a Society for Historical Archaeology conference on Jan. 6, the event moderator gave Schuyler permission to briefly interrupt University of York Ph.D. student Liz Quinlan as she answered a question about increasing accessibility to future virtual conferences. After urging members to attend the SHA’s upcoming Philadelphia conference, Schuyler asked how the pandemic impacted membership renewals for 2021. Deeming his question off-topic, Quinlan attempted to redirect the conversation back to virtual conference accessibility.

After asserting that he has “free speech” and should be allowed to discuss the matter during the conference, Schuyler raised his arm in a Nazi salute and said “Sieg heil to you,” a victory phrase once used by the Nazi Party and now used by white supremacists. Schuyler previously told the DP he does not endorse Nazism.

Following the incident, Schuyler was condemned for his actions by Fluharty, Morrison, and the Penn Museum, where he was associate curator-in-charge of the historical archaeology section. None of the statements mentioned whether he would be fired or face disciplinary action, and the University previously declined to comment on whether it was considering firing Schuyler.

Morrison confirmed to the DP on Jan. 11 that ANTH 220: “Historical Archaeology Laboratory,” the course Schuyler was set to teach this semester, would no longer be offered. Several students scheduled to take ANTH 220 told the DP they supported the cancellation of his course, with some adding that the University should consider further disciplinary action.  

“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 in an email to the DP on Jan. 11.

Schuyler faced widespread calls for his firing in the weeks following the incident. 

Quinlan and two of her colleagues, Harvard University Ph.D. student Melina Seabrook and Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History Ph.D. student Ayushi Nayakpenned an open letter to Penn on Jan. 12 calling for the University to place Schuyler on administrative leave, conduct a review of its grievance procedures to better address discriminatory behavior, and ultimately terminate Schuyler’s employment. The open letter includes a petition for those who support its demands, which Nayak said has gained more than 300 signatures as of Jan. 15.

“Please show us, by holding Dr. Robert Schuyler fully accountable for his heinous acts, that you condemn this behavior and are committed in your fight against all forms of prejudice, and move our field forward to create a better environment for everyone,” the open letter states.

student-created Change.org petition, also demanding Schuyler’s termination, has garnered more than 1,900 signatures as of Wednesday evening. Created by College junior Dana Raphael, 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.”