The University of Pennsylvania on Monday canceled the classes of a professor captured on video last week using rhetoric and a hand gesture associated with Nazism during an academic conference after the video spread and drew calls for his firing.
In an online thread and short video documenting how the episode unfolded during a Society for Historical Archaeology virtual discussion on Wednesday, Robert Schuyler, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Museum curator, is heard berating a participant, then using the phrase “Sieg Heil,” accompanied by a Nazi salute.
The episode happened the same day as insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol over the results of the 2020 presidential election.
In a video of the full exchange shared with The Inquirer, Schuyler interjects about 15 minutes into the talk with membership concerns unrelated to a prior speaker, Liz Quinlan, a researcher and doctoral student at the University of York, who was discussing issues of accessibility.
Quinlan told Schuyler that “this is not the place for you to bring up this.”
“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,” he said.
As Quinlan explained she was using her platform the society gave her, Schuyler said: “Sieg Heil to you,” with his hand raised in the air.
In a letter to SHA officials shared with The Inquirer, Quinlan recounted what happened, shared her disappointment with “the lack of reaction,” and called for action to be taken against Schuyler, including for him to be censured as well as barred from future meetings.
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
Penn Museum and the Society for Historical Archaeology issued statements condemning the episode. Schuyler confirmed his actions to the Daily Pennsylvanian, which first reported the story, but said he does not think he should be disciplined.
Schuyler did not respond to a request for comment from The Inquirer. He is listed as a “gold sponsor” and a COVID-19 financial assistance donor in the SHA’s “54th Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology,” which was held Jan. 6-9.
As the video found attention and backlash over the weekend, Kathleen Morrison, Penn’s department of anthropology chair, said she was “appalled” by the behavior and called for anyone with additional information to come forward.In an update Monday, Morrison said the university had canceled his courses and are in contact with students in finding “alternatives,” she said.
Schuyler teaches eight total courses, including historical archaeology, African American archaeology, and themes in historical archaeology, according to Penn’s website.
SHA confirmed it received a formal complaint on Friday and said “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” in a statement.
“We are deeply sorry that our conference became a place where people felt threatened, unwelcome, and diminished by the actions of an individual,” Barbara Heath, president of the group, said in the statement. “There is no place for such behavior in the SHA.”
Penn Museum said it “condemns this reprehensible behavior and rejects this dangerous rhetoric” and that “the university is initiating a review to determine the appropriate course of action.”
“In light of recent events surrounding the siege on our nation’s Capitol, we reaffirm that the Penn Museum is a place that advances continuous learning and respectful discourse about diverse traditions, cultures, and beliefs, to create more understanding in a complex world,” the statement read.
The university did not respond to a request for comment.