Throughout the controversy over Elizabeth Warren’s claimed Native American ancestry, Warren has maintained she was unaware that Harvard Law School touted her heritage in defense of it’s diversity hiring practices in the 90’s. As reported by the Boston Herald, the Harvard student newspaper The Crimson published at least two contemporaneous articles on this topic which made reference to Elizabeth Warren as a Native American professor, in defense of the Law School. But it turns out this controversy generated ink in more than just the Harvard school paper: it also found it’s way into the New York Times. This is the full text of a letter published by the Times on Feb. 1, 1998 (emphasis added):

To the Editor:

Re the Jan. 29 Op-Ed article on hiring at Harvard Law School: Since 1989 the school has appointed to the faculty or voted tenure for four African-Americans, a Hispanic professor and eight women, including a Native American.

The school first offered a visiting professorship to Lani Guinier in 1992. Because of her nomination by President Clinton and for personal reasons, she was unable to accept our offer until January 1996. We offered her a tenured professorship in February 1996 and were happy to receive her acceptance of the offer this month.

Over all, 44 percent of the people appointed to positions of professor or assistant professor since Robert Clark became dean in 1989 have been women or minorities group members. We expect this trend in faculty hiring to continue.


News Director, Harvard Law School

Cambridge, Mass., Jan. 30, 1998

The Jan 29 Op-Ed that this was in response to was an editorial written by former Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell, of all people, in which he questioned why it had taken Harvard Law so long to hire it’s first minority female professor (Lani Guinier). “At Last, Harvard Sees the Light” was the headline, and it was featured prominently on the Times editorial page (you can see an image of the story over at Breitbart, thanks to John Sexton who unearthed this at his local library.)

So Chmura’s letter was clearly an effort to counter the bad publicity generated by Bell’s Op-Ed. And given that Bell’s criticism was focused on the lack of minority women hired at Harvard, Chmura’s assertion that they had in fact previously hired one individual who fit this description – a Native American woman – was central to his case.

Now, obviously Chmura’s letter did not mention Warren by name. However, an article which appeared in the Harvard Crimson only 3 days later, welcoming Guinier to the School, also included the following text:

Harvard Law School currently has only one tenured minority woman, Gottlieb Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren, who is Native American. The racial makeup of the HLS Faculty has been an issue before as well: in 1989, Harvard dismissed Weld Professor of Law Derrick A. Bell after 18 years of teaching because the noted expert on race and law refused to end his leave in protest of the absence of minority women on HLS faculty.

Chmura himself also directly identified Warren as a Native American, and Harvard Law’s only minority female faculty member, in an article published a couple of years earlier in the Crimson. So it seems pretty unlikely to say the least that Chmura could have been referring to anyone other than Warren in his letter to the Times. Both this letter, and the article published in the Crimson just 3 days later, were directly related to the hiring of Lani Guinier. And as far as anyone knows, there was no one else at Harvard Law claiming to be a Native American woman in this time frame.

Ok, so what? I suppose this may be just another footnote to this whole episode. But I also think this further calls into question Warren’s claim that she was unaware that her heritage was being used by Harvard in this manner. Now that we know this controversy involved not only a long-simmering controversy with a prominent former law professor in Bell, but that it also spilled over to the pages of the New York Times. Could Warren have somehow been oblivious to all this? That a Harvard spokesperson was effectively promoting her claim to be a Native American to the world?  I suppose it’s possible, but it doesn’t seem very likely. In fact I think it’s much more likely that the reason no one has found any other references to Warren’s Native American status after 1999 is that Warren ultimately put a stop to it knowing how ridiculous it looked for Harvard to claim her as a diversity hire.

Even if somehow Warren was unaware of this as she now claims, Harvard Law School was clearly promoting her heritage as a counter-point to criticism over their hiring practices, and in the pages of the New York Times no less. Warren says she listed herself as a minority only in the hope of making new friends, but it sure seems to have played a more important role than this, at least for Harvard.

(For some additional background on just how prominent the controversy was over Harvard Law’s diversity hiring practices in the 90’s, I recommend this informative piece by Hans Bader who was a Harvard Law student in this era.)