Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren is under increasing criticism over her listing herself as a Native American as a law professor — a status reported by Harvard Law School in counting her as a minority faculty member. There is limited evidence that Warren is indeed Native American. At most, the degree of indian blood is extremely low. Warren has answered the criticism by saying that she was not trying to use minority status for her own professional benefit but to establish personal associations. The controversy has caused a buzz among law professors as to the definition of minority status for professors and students alike.
Warren listed herself as a Native American minority for years on the directory of law professors. She insisted in an interview this week that “I listed myself in the directory in the hopes that it might mean that I would be invited to a luncheon, a group something that might happen with people who are like I am. Nothing like that ever happened, that was clearly not the use for it and so I stopped checking it off,.”
Warren is a very talented academic and I do not share the view that she was given her position at Harvard (or received her well-deserved praise as an academic) due to the claim of being a minority.
There is a mixed record on the question of her great great great grandmother. The article below says that genealogists at the New England Historic Genealogical Society were unable to support claims that her great great great grandmother is Cherokee. O.C. Sarah Smith is listed on an electronic transcript of a 1894 marriage application as Cherokee but they have been unable to find the original record. However, it would seem to be that the electronic record should give Warren the benefit of the doubt as to her beliefs in her ancestry. That does not entirely answer the question, however. Even if true, such a connection would constitute a reported 1/32 part Native American. Many Americans have such a small connection to Native Americans.
Is it relevant to running for political office if voters believe that Warren wrongly claimed or exaggerated minority status? I see no reason why someone should not claim ancestry tied to Native Americans, no matter how tangential. While I expect that there are a couple dozen of other bloodlines and cultures in the Warren family with equal or greater presence, it is clearly something that the family took pride in as part of its history.
Putting aside the hyper partisanship that seems to warp all analysis these days, there remains some difficult questions for the legal academy. While I do not believe that Warren’s well-earned success was due to this claim, she did make the claim for years and being a minority law professor does work to the advantage of both the academic and the school as institutions work to increase their minority numbers of both students and professors. The controversy also highlights the uncertain standards for claims of minority status among law schools. We are currently in the midst of a scandal over inflated employment numbers and the effort to impose concrete standards for how to count employment. Do we need the same reexamination of the claim of minority status or should it be entirely self-defined for each academic?
What do you think?
Source: Boston Herald