Elizabeth Warren Herself Claimed “Minority” Status

A controversy has broken out in Massachusetts over the fact that Harvard Law School has claimed professor and current senatorial candidate Elizabeth as a minority member of the faculty based on apparent (but as yet unconfirmed) Native American ancestry. The Brown camp seems to think this is big news [update: the campaign has called on her to apologize for allowing Harvard to claim her as a “minority”; this, as we’ll see, doesn’t make any sense, because at the time Warren was claiming herself as a minority, and Harvard was only following her lead], Warren responds that she’s unaware that Harvard claimed her as a minority professor, but that she’s proud of her Indian ancestry. Her colleague Charles Fried, who was chair of the appointments committee when she was hired, claims that Warren’s Native American ancestry never came up in the hiring process, and that he only became aware of it later.

My contribution to this controversy is that there seems to be some disingenuousness going on. Warren says that she could not “recall” ever listing her Native American background when applying for college or a job.

The old AALS Directory of Faculty guides are online (through academic libraries) at Hein Online. The directories starting listing minority faculty in an appendix in 1986. There’s Elizabeth Warren, listed as a professor at Texas. I spot-checked three additional directories from when she was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, including 1995-96, the year Harvard offered her a position. Elizabeth Warren, Elizabeth Warren, Elizabeth Warren.

So, we know one thing with almost 100% certainty: Elizabeth Warren identified herself as a minority law professor. We know something else with 90%+ certainty: (at least some) folks at Harvard were almost certainly aware that she identified as a minority law professor, though they may not have known which ethnic group she claimed to be belong to, and it may not have played any role in her hiring.

But it gets even more interesting: once Warren joined the Harvard faculty, she dropped off the list of minority law faculty. Now that’s passing strange. When the AALS directory form came around before Warren arrived at Harvard, she was proud enough of her Native American ancestry to ask that she be listed among the minority law professors. (Or, in the unlikely even that she just allowed law school administrators to fill out the forms for her without reviewing them, they were aware that she claimed such ancestry, and she didn’t object when she was listed.) Once she arrived at Harvard, however, she no longer chose to be listed as a minority law professor.


UPDATE: This story reminded me of the 1980s case of the twin red-haired Boston firefighters who claimed to be black, based on a photo of a great-grandmother and alleged oral history. While I remembered that they had gotten fired for their alleged fraud, I didn’t remember this detail:

Under current rules, said [general counsel to the state personnel office] Ms. Dale, candidates who say they are members of minority groups are judged by appearance, documented personal history and identification with a minority community. Disputes over claims of minority status are resolved by the Department of Personnel Administration.

And indeed, there eventually was a two-day administrative hearing, in which the hearing officer determined that the twins failed all three criteria, and thus were not black. A judge upheld the ruling, finding that the twins had claimed minority status in bad faith.I have to admit being under the impression until now that as a legal matter, minority status was an in issue of self-reporting. But at least in the Massachusetts Civil Service system, one can get fired for “racial fraud.”

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