In Washington, it is often the response of politicians to allegations that get them into more trouble than the original allegations themselves. Harvard Professor and US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren appears to be reaffirming that rule as more information surfaced that casts serious questions about her veracity over the claim to being a Native American. The latest disclosure comes from the Boston Globe, a Democratic-leaning newspaper that has been criticized for downplaying the controversy in the past. I previously discussed how claiming to be a minority is a significant act for law professors due to reporting to the federal government, the ABA, and AALS. Warren has insisted that she was unaware that she was listed as a minority, but, as a law professor, I am skeptical how such listings can occur without a professor volunteering the information. Now, the Boston Globe is reporting that Harvard listed Warren for years as a minority in reports to the federal government. Obviously, this story has particular interest to law professors, but it is being played out in the Massachusetts senatorial race.
I do not share the view that anyone should be able to claim to be a minority, particularly when reporting responsibilities to the government and the ABA hold great importance for schools and academics. Warren is not a minority. She also does not meet that federal definition of a Native American.
Warren’s denial of knowledge of being viewed as a minority and a Cherokee has faced repeatedly contradiction including the recent disclosure by the New York Times of being claimed as a minority faculty member at her earlier law school, the University of Pennsylvania. There have also been smaller disclosures like her contributions to the “Pow Wow Cook Book” as a Cherokee woman.
The Globe reports on Warren’s pasts denial but reveals “for at least six straight years during Warren’s tenure, Harvard University reported in federally mandated diversity statistics that it had a Native American woman in its senior ranks at the law school.” The school notes, as we previously discussed, such statistics are based on the reporting of the professors themselves as minorities. The newspaper states the new information “further questions about Warren’s statements that she was unaware Harvard was promoting her as Native American.”
Warren is refusing to respond to the new information and her campaign insists that she has already answered enough questions.
Alan Ray, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, was the official responsible during this period for reporting at Harvard. He is now president of Elmhurst College in Illinois and says that he did not list Warren unilaterally and never encouraged an professor to report themselves as a minority.
Warren was repeatedly identified as a minority Native American in various publications for the Harvard Crimson. As previously discussed, she was called Harvard Law’s “first woman of color” in a 1997 Fordham Law Review and in 1998, Harvard published a letter to the New York Times heralding the presence of a “Native American” on the faculty. Then again in 1998, the Crimson followed up on the New York Times publication and wrote “Harvard Law School currently has only one tenured minority woman, Gottlieb Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren, who is Native American.”
I have previously said how much I respect Warren as an academic and her intellect would be clearly be an asset in the U.S. Senate. However, I remained concerned over the denials of knowledge and the years of claims to be a minority. Whether such claims assisted her career or not, the reporting of minority hiring affects myriad of different issues and rankings. To count a minority member on a faculty, reduces pressure on the school to further diversify its ranks and elevates the status of the professor. Under any reasonable definition, Warren is not a minority and there is no documentation establishing that she is even 1/32 Cherokee. Even if she were 1/32 Cherokee, would we feel it was fine for someone to claim they are black or hispanic with 1/32 connection to that minority or asian? If so, law schools could claim a multifold increase in minorities. Clearly, we cannot have reporting data if anyone is given carte blanche in self-proclaiming themselves to be minorities.
While I do not question her pride in the family claim to have Indian blood (though tens of millions have such potential claims of a small presence of Indian blood in their families), there is a big difference between such pride and claiming to be a minority or Native American. I tend not to view these stories in partisan terms. Frankly, I am a critic of both parties. I believe that story does raise legitimate questions, particularly regarding the denials of knowledge. While I do not believe that this is the most important question in the campaign, I do believe it warrants further answers from Warren.
What do you think? Do you believe Warren should respond to these latest allegations in the Boston Globe and New York Times or is this completely irrelevant to judging Warren’s character and veracity?
Source: Boston Globe