UPenn professor retires after facing backlash for using Nazi salute

Liz Quinlan | The Daily Pennsylvanian

A professor at the University of Pennsylvania resigned this week after stirring a controversy by using a Nazi salute and expression during a virtual conference.

Robert Schuyler, an associate professor of anthropology and associate curator-in-charge of the historical archaeology section at the Penn Museum, retired on Monday, according to a statement from the university. The move came after the school canceled his scheduled courses for the spring semester amid a review.

Steven Fluharty, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, condemned the “abhorrent conduct.”

“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 said. “Nazi symbols are antithetical to our values as an institution. The fact that this behavior comes during a period of deep social division in our nation, when too many others are invoking such symbols in their expressions of hate, makes this incident even more painful for our community.”

Schuyler’s retirement also extends to his position at the Penn Museum, public relations director Jill DiSanto told The Hill on Thursday.

The incident involving Schuyler occurred on Jan. 6. during a Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) virtual discussion.

Liz Quinlan, a researcher and graduate student at the University of York, was speaking about increasing accessibility to future virtual conferences when Schuyler asked how the pandemic impacted membership renewals for 2021.

Quinlan attempted to redirect the conversation and told Schuyler, a society donor, that it was “not the place” to address the matter.

“I’m sorry, but I have freedom of speech, and you’re not going to tell me it’s not the place for me to bring this up,” Schuyler said.

As Quinlan began to respond, Schuyler used the Nazi victory cry of “Sieg Heil to you” while raising his hand in a Nazi salute.

Quinlan appeared emotional at the end of the discussion, telling the group that “having a senior researcher, male, come and cut me off while I was trying to finish my speech — which I was given the position to do” highlighted the need for more inclusion in the SHA.

She later filed a complaint asking for SHA to censure Schuyler and bar him from attending future meeting. She also sent it to the Register of Professional Archaeologists, of which Schuyler is a member, according to the student newspaper The Daily Pennsylvanian.

“To not only be interrupted, but to be spoken to with such vitriol and anger by a senior researcher in my field is demoralizing, embarrassing, and deeply upsetting,” Quinlan wrote, noting that she has faced interruptions in the past as a queer, disabled archeologist. “The apparent inclusion of a Nazi salute and reference to a Nazi victory cry, whether done in jest or otherwise, is both enormously offensive and abhorrent.” 

SHA Executive Director Karen Hutchinson told The Daily Pennsylvanian that “actions have been taken internally to rectify the situation and ensure that a situation like this is addressed in a more timely manner moving forward.”

On Twitter, Quinlan said she was “pleased” to see news that Schuyler had retired because it means the “hostile environment he had created for current and future students and colleagues is now disrupted.”

“Any anger at the lack of accountability for his actions is better directed at the tenure system, which makes retirement the only positive scenario here,” she added. “The tenure system, contrary to its original purpose l, protects bad actors and softens the blow of accountability.”

– Updated 2:13 p.m.

Tags Ivy League Nazi salute Nazi symbolism Pennsylvania Philadelphia Professor Robert Schuyler Tenure University of Pennsylvania UPenn
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