Elizabeth Warren might have hoped to scare off more media inquiries into her claims of Native American ancestry as a career boost yesterday, but today’s front page of the Boston Globe makes it clear the problem isn’t going away — and in fact might get worse. Warren has insisted that she only cited her supposed Cherokee ancestry once at Harvard to meet others like herself, even though there is no evidence she took steps to socialize among other Native Americans at Harvard. A Globe review of documentation suggests that Harvard and/or Warren repeatedly made those claims, and that even if Warren had believed herself to be 1/32nd Cherokee, she wouldn’t have met the definition for inclusion (via Politico’s Morning Blast e-mail):
US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren has said she was unaware that Harvard Law School had been promoting her purported Native American heritage until she read about it in a newspaper several weeks ago.
But 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. According to both Harvard officials and federal guidelines, those statistics are almost always based on the way employees describe themselves.
In addition, both Harvard’s guidelines and federal regulations for the statistics lay out a specific definition of Native American that Warren does not meet.
The documents suggest for the first time that either Warren or a Harvard administrator classified her repeatedly as Native American in papers prepared for the government in a way that apparently did not adhere to federal diversity guidelines. They raise further questions about Warren’s statements that she was unaware Harvard was promoting her as Native American.
The Globe presents a balanced look at both sides of the argument, but farther down into the piece comes to the crux of the problem regarding Warren’s identification as “a woman of color” based on Native American background, whether the “family lore” was accurate or not:
The Harvard document defines Native American as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North America and who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community recognition.’’ It notes that this definition is consistent with federal regulations.
It is not a definition Warren appears to fit. She has not proven she has a Native American ancestor, instead saying she based her belief on family lore, and she has no official tribal affiliation. The current executive director of Harvard’s Native American program has said she has no memory of Warren participating in any of its activities.
I’ve written about the perverse incentives and ridiculous outcomes of programs that divide people by ancestry for professional gain, so I won’t revisit that here. Suffice it to say that any program that ends up hailing the very pale Elizabeth Warren as Harvard Law’s only “woman of color” has amply discredited itself simply on the basis of common sense already.
Politically speaking, the Globe story and its prominence creates a big problem for Warren. While the story remained the province of the Boston Herald, Warren could shrug it off as an attack on her family by her opponent Scott Brown and his allies. There is no way to include the Boston Globe among Brown’s allies, however, and the front-page treatment of the issue and the strong implication above the jump that Warren has been dishonest will damage her prospects. Warren will need to keep addressing this, and will eventually have to explain why she didn’t adhere to the standard Harvard put in place for claims of Native American ancestry — which was intended, let’s not forget, to help those disadvantaged by their cultural separation from mainstream America.
Harvard has some questions to answer, too. The final paragraph of the story reveals the hypocrisy at Harvard over their claims of diversity:
Brown has called on Harvard to release records that could shed light on how Warren and the school classified her heritage. But the law school bans divulging personal information about its employees, including race or ethnicity.
Really? Let’s hear an explanation that squares that policy with their repeated and very public claims of diversity based on that information.
Update: Michael Patrick Leahy has more on the “woman of color” angle at Breitbart:
Breitbart News has uncovered exclusive new evidence that in the spring of 1993, three years before Harvard Law School first publicly stated she was “a woman of color,” Elizabeth Warren likely made that claim while teaching at Harvard, and at approximately the same time the faculty was considering her for a tenured position. Warren, now running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, told Politico as recently as May 15 that she had “no idea” why a Harvard Law School spokesman called her a “woman of color” in a 1996 Harvard Crimson article and a 1997 Fordham Law Review article. However, a 1993 issue of the Harvard Women’s Law Journal suggests that she knew very well indeed.
An article, “Women of Color in Legal Academia: A Biographic and Bibliographic Guide,” which was published by the Harvard Women’s Law Journal (since renamed the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender) in its Spring 1993 edition (Volume 16), lists Warren as one of approximately 250 “women of color” in legal academia.
Looks like there was a lot of promotion of Warren’s status going on. How likely would it have been that Warren had no knowledge of it?