- Created on Thursday, 31 May 2012 12:40
In an earlier post, I explained why – based on the evidence – I believed that almost certainly Elizabeth Warren identified herself as a Native American for institutional rather than personal reasons, that is, not to gain an advantage in the job market but to help her employer’s diversity statistics. Since that post there have been interesting developments that I shall discuss here. But if you have not already done so, you should read my earlier piece first.
Yesterday Elizabeth Warren announced that she told the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard law schools that she was Native American. She says that she told both schools this after they hired her. In an interview with the right-wing website Breitbart.com (hereinafter “Breitbart”), Robert C. Clark – who was then dean of Harvard Law School and the person who hired Warren – provided information that dovetails with Warren’s claim. Clark says that although Warren’s “gender may have been in the minds of several members of the faculty” when they decided to offer her a permanent position, he did not know that she claimed to have a Native American ancestor until after he extended a job offer.
It is important to pause briefly for some important chronology. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Elizabeth Warren was a super-star, and Harvard did not have an easy time recruiting her. Clark offered Warren a tenured position at Harvard Law School in February 1993. But Warren’s children were in high school in Philadelphia, and she did not then want to uproot her family. Clark told Warren he would keep the offer open. Warren accepted two years later, in February 1995, and took up her permanent position at Harvard that fall, after her children had graduated from high school.
Clark says that it was during this two-year period – after he extended the offer but before Warren accepted it – that Warren told him that her great-great-great grandmother was Cherokee. Curiously, Breitbart does not report the circumstances under which Warren related this to Clark. Breitbart has been vigorously beating the drums to discredit Warren, and it is inconceivable that its interviewer did not closely question Clark about that conversation. Breitbart does, however, quote Clark as follows: “When I learned of it from her, I thought it was an interesting side note, because my own family lore through my grandfather was that we had a Choctaw ancestor in my own family.” Whether Warren’s mentioning her Native American ancestor was prompted by Clark mentioning his, or vice versa, may be something neither participant remembers, and is of little importance.
Professor Charles Fried, who was on the faculty committee that recommended Warren’s appointment, also says that he did not know that Warren claimed Native American ancestry before Harvard hired her and that it never came up during the committee’s discussions. Fried says that he learned about it later at a party in Warren’s home when he remarked on a family photo.
Clark told Breitbart something else of significance: “A few years later, around 1996 or 1997, I made an offhand comment in an informal get-together with a Native American student group about this Choctaw family lore. Eventually a law school administrator asked me if I wished to list myself as Native American in some of our EEOC reports, but I politely declined.” As I theorized in my earlier piece, it is likely that Warren came to be listed as a Native American in similar fashion, that is, she mentioned her great-great-great grandmother in casual conversation, and administrators or others later asked her to list herself as Native American to help their schools' diversity statistics.
For the very same reasons that the right-wing is ridiculing her, Warren would have turned off any law school appointments committee that thought that Warren – with 1/32 Native American blood and no connection to a tribe or Native American community – was attempting to win their favor by claiming to be Native American. And Warren is smart enough to have known that.
Should Warren, like Clark, have told law school administrators that she did not want to list herself as Native American? It is easy to answer yes. Nevertheless, it is difficult for anyone – even law school professors – to refuse a request by an employer.
The bottom-line is this: Additional evidence further supports the theory that Warren identified herself as Native American, not for advantage in the job market, but to help employers’ diversity statistics.