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Credit: Alana Kelly

Students are calling on Penn to fire a professor after a video of him using a Nazi phrase and salute at an archaeological conference gained attention on social media on Saturday. 

Robert Schuyler, an associate professor of anthropology and associate curator-in-charge of the historical archaeology section at the Penn Museum, held his arm in a Nazi salute and used the Nazi phrase “Sieg heil” during a brief altercation with an invited speaker. He told The Daily Pennsylvanian that he believed his speech was being suppressed and was attempting to reference the limits on free speech in Nazi Germany, but added that he later regretted his actions and does not endorse Nazism.

“The University is initiating a review to determine the appropriate course [of] action,” University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy wrote in an emailed statement to the DP on Sunday afternoon.

Anthropology Department Chair Kathleen Morrison told the DP on Saturday that she was "appalled" by his behavior and notified the Penn Museum, the provost, and the deans of the School of Arts and Sciences to set up meetings to discuss the matter. She added that she does not believe it is healthy for Schuyler to be in contact with students. 

Schuyler declined to comment on student calls for the University to fire him on Monday morning.

A petition calling on the University, President Amy Gutmann, and Provost Wendell Pritchett to fire Schuyler was launched Monday morning. The petition, which garnered more than 75 signatures in three hours, states that "antisemitic and racist behavior does not align with the University’s values, and cannot be tolerated under any circumstance."

College senior Carson Eckhard, who shared the video of Schuyler on Twitter on Saturday, said he should be taken off faculty at Penn. Tenured Penn faculty members may have their contract terminated before retirement “by action of the Trustees under the provisions for removal for just cause,” according to the Faculty Handbook

“The University needs to forcefully condemn any kind of Nazi rhetoric and make sure that it doesn't have a place at Penn,” Eckhard said.

At the conference, the event moderator gave Schuyler permission to briefly interrupt University of York Ph.D. candidate Liz Quinlan as she answered a question about increasing accessibility to future Society for Historical Archaeology virtual conferences. After agreeing with Quinlan's point, Schuyler asked how the pandemic impacted membership renewals for 2021. Deeming his question off-topic, Quinlan attempted to redirect the conversation to virtual conference accessibility.

"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 before using the Nazi gesture and phrase.

College senior Sarah Simon, who is Jewish, agreed that Schuyler should be fired and has no place teaching students after his use of a Nazi gesture and victory phrase. The phrase "Sieg heil" translates to "Hail victory" and was a widely used slogan for the Nazi Party in Germany before being adopted by white supremacists in North America and elsewhere.

“I don't think that's something that Penn's campus should tolerate in any capacity, and I certainly won't feel safe on campus, nor do I think most Jewish students will feel safe on campus [if he remains],” Simon said.

2020 College graduate Connor Ling called on Penn to both make a statement condemning Schuyler’s actions and remove him from faculty. Ling said that if he cannot be fired because of tenure, Schuyler should be removed from teaching or placed on leave.

After facing widespread calls for her firing, tenured Penn Law professor Amy Wax was barred from teaching a required first-year course after making a series of racist statements, including that she had never seen a Black Penn Law student graduate in the top quarter of their class.

Simon said that Schuyler’s defense of his use of the gesture and phrase does not make it acceptable. 

“There's really no context that I think can justify that gesture and that wording,” Simon said.

Ling agreed, adding that it was clear from the context of the video that Schuyler was not endorsing Nazism himself, but his actions were still inexcusable.

“There’s just no reason for him to resort to Hitler’s salute or expression,” Ling said.

Eckhard said she hopes that Penn can set an example for how organizations should handle hateful speech by firing Schuyler.

“This sort of legitimizes Nazis outside of the academy, if people can point to someone who is a tenured and, up until now, a well-respected professor and say, ‘well he said it, so it's okay,’” Eckhard said.

Eckhard said she also hopes Schuyler’s position at the Penn Museum will prompt a larger reckoning with the organization’s racist past, including displaying the Morton Cranial Collection of 1,000 crania of enslaved people. The collection was removed from public view this summer but remains at the museum for research purposes. 

“These things are all linked together and I would like to see the University very forcefully condemn and take action on both counts,” Eckhard said. 

The Penn Museum denounced Schuyler's actions in an email to the DP on Saturday, but declined to state whether he will face repercussions. 

“The Penn Museum condemns this reprehensible behavior and dangerous rhetoric,” Penn Museum Public Relations Director Jill DiSanto wrote. “It is the antithesis of who we are and what we stand for.”

A College senior and a former student of Schuyler's, who requested anonymity out of fear of academic retaliation, said they were not surprised by Schuyler’s actions and agreed that Penn should fire him. The College senior said they hope Penn will do more than remove him from teaching duties, as the University did in response to Wax’s racist comments.

“White supremacy has no place at Penn,” the College senior said. “And I feel like firing him or letting him go from the department would be the most effective way to drive home that point.”

Another former student of Schuyler who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation said that they were not surprised by Schuyler’s actions in the video — both the Nazi salute and his attempt to interrupt the invited speaker. They said that in class, Schuyler frequently interrupted students and went on unrelated tangents about his political opinions and support for President and 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump. 

Since 2019, Schuyler has donated several hundred dollars to Trump’s re-election campaign, the Republican National Committee, and other right-leaning organizations, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Schuyler's former student said he should be relieved of his teaching duties this semester, adding that they do not believe it is safe for him to be teaching students right now. Schuyler is currently scheduled to teach ANTH 220: Historical Archaeology Laboratory in spring 2021.

“How is someone supposed to learn and change when they don’t face any repercussions?” Schuyler's former student said.

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