Earlier this month, Robert Schuyler, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), sparked a storm of criticism when he used a Nazi salute and phrase during the plenary session of the Society for Historical Archaeology’s (SHA’s) annual meeting. Yesterday afternoon, UPenn updated a statement about the incident, saying Schuyler has retired from the university. Kathleen Morrison, chair of UPenn’s anthropology department, also tweeted the news but declined to comment further. Schuyler did not respond to requests from Science for comment.
On 6 January, Schuyler interrupted the plenary presentation of Liz Quinlan, an archaeologist and doctoral student at the University of York, about her work as the virtual conference’s accessibility coordinator. When Quinlan attempted to hold the floor, Schuyler said, “I’m sorry, but I have freedom of speech.” Then he thrust his arm into the air and said “Sieg heil to you.” The incident was recorded on video, and Quinlan filed a harassment complaint with SHA. She’s said she’s been satisfied with the society’s response, though the outcome remains confidential. The Register of Professional Archaeologists has also opened an investigation. Schuyler later told The Daily Pennsylvanian, UPenn’s student newspaper, that he doesn’t endorse Nazism and regrets his choice of words.
After the incident became public, UPenn quickly canceled Schuyler’s upcoming classes. Steven Fluharty, dean of UPenn’s school of arts and sciences, wrote in a statement that he “strongly condemn[ed] this abhorrent conduct.” Many students called on the university to fire Schuyler; a petition calling for his termination has garnered nearly 2000 signatures. Quinlan co-authored an open letter to UPenn leadership that also asked for Schuyler to be fired. “Failure to hold Schuyler accountable lets others know that they can continue to get away with bigoted, discriminatory, and increasingly harmful behavior,” the letter reads.
After Schuyler’s retirement was announced Monday, Quinlan expressed relief. “I’m pleased that current and future students and colleagues no longer have to deal with the hostile work environment that Schuyler was complicit in creating,” she told Science. “I am disappointed that he gets to skip any true accountability by moving directly to retirement, but I understand that this was one of the best-case scenarios,” given that Schuyler had tenure.
Ayushi Nayak, a doctoral student at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and a co-author of the open letter, adds: “We hope that this sets a precedent in our discipline for dealing with hateful and discriminatory conduct swiftly.”