Elizabeth Warren mounts PR blitz insisting Cherokee claims never helped her career
Sen. Elizabeth Warren launched a public relations blitz over the weekend aimed at proving her claims of Cherokee ancestry had no impact on her high-flying Ivy League career, but not everyone was convinced.
The Massachusetts Democrat, whose possible 2020 presidential run has been dogged by her unproven assertions of minority status as a law professor, released Sunday through her Senate campaign 10 personnel documents from five universities, including Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.
The document drop came a day after the Boston Globe ran an extensive article that included interviews with Ms. Warren; her husband, Harvard Law School professor Bruce Mann; and 31 Harvard faculty involved with deciding whether to offer her a full-time post in 1993.
“You have what I have,” Ms. Warren told the Globe, referring to the files from her career as a law school professor. “My family is my family, but my background played no role in my getting hired anywhere.”
The Globe agreed, concluding that “at every step of her remarkable rise in the legal profession, the people responsible for hiring her saw her as a white woman,” but others were skeptical.
Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson argued that Ms. Warren had “managed the flow of information to present the narrative she wants” by releasing “partial and incomplete records of Warren’s choosing,” much as she did in 2012, when the issue threatened to derail her first Senate run.
“Clearly Warren is preparing to run for president. She wanted a Globe article on record so she could say she’s already dealt with the controversy, and that she’s been cleared,” said Mr. Jacobson said in an email. “Unfortunately for Warren, the Globe article raises more questions than it answers.”
For example, he said, “there is no indication” that she produced the complete Harvard hiring file, including notes and committee records, or that she met the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Harvard requirements for a minority hire.
“The bottom line of the Globe article is that if Elizabeth Warren tried to juice her resume with a claim to be Native American, it may not have worked,” said Mr. Jacobson, who runs the conservative Legal Insurrection blog. “That’s hardly a sympathetic political narrative.”
Shiva Ayyadurai, who’s challenging Ms. Warren’s re-election bid as an independent candidate, said the dates show that Ms. Warren began her Ivy League ascent only after she began listing herself as a minority law professor in the 1986-87 Association of American Law Schools annual directory.
Before she was hired in 1987 at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, she taught at the University of Houston and University of Texas. She began at Harvard as a visiting professor in 1992, and was awarded tenure in 1995.
Documents and interviews show Penn and Harvard began listing her as minority faculty only after she was hired, but Mr. Ayyadurai said university officials would’ve known of her status because “those directories are what recruiters used. They were the LinkedIn of that time.”
“Remember, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard want to act as if they’re all about meritocracy,” said Mr. Ayyadurai. “This is all a game ‘Oh, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, we’re getting you because you’re the best,’ but if you look at each case afterward, she was listed as a Native American. It’s a pattern.”
The progressive senator’s decision to sit for a lengthy interview and to post previously unreleased documents comes with the issue of her unproven ancestry refusing to die, thanks in large part to President Trump’s “Pocahontas” jabs, as the 2020 presidential election looms.
In Massachusetts, she’s a virtual lock for re-election in November, but Mr. Ayyadurai has needled her by giving out thousands of car magnets and hundreds of large yard signs with the slogan, “Only the real Indian can defeat a fake Indian.”
The article said Penn law professor Stephen Burbank produced a document showing that before hiring her in 1987, the appointments committee considered “whether there were any minority candidates of equal or better stature,” indicating that she was viewed as white.
In addition, “Penn, records show” had invited her for a visit in 1984, before she listed herself as a minority, but that she declined.
In December 1989, she switched her racial designation at Penn from “white” to “Native American.” In 1994, the law school identified her as a minority faculty recipient of the Lindback Award.
Why change her ethnicity? Ms. Warren said she didn’t remember telling Penn to alter the form, but that it was a difficult time for her as an Oklahoma-born Westerner trying to fit in on the East Coast.
“When I get to Penn and Harvard, I look around and think this is not a club that I’m likely to be able to join,” she told the Globe. “I had different heritage than most of the people there You can try to keep your head down or say: This is who I am. Different from the rest of you, but this is who I am.”
By the time she arrived at Harvard in 1992, Ms. Warren had identified herself for six years as a minority. Even so, 30 Harvard professors involved in her hiring told the Globe that ethnicity wasn’t a factor.
Only one professor emeritus said her minority status might have been discussed. Harvard didn’t list her as minority faculty until November 1995, according to a document from her personnel file.
“She was not on the radar screen at all in terms of a racial minority hire,” said Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy. “It was just not an issue. I can’t remember anybody ever mentioning her in this context.”
Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz called it a “made-up issue,” while professor David Wilkins, who is black, said her being part Native American would have had little sway with the appointments committee.
“Let’s be blunt. Elizabeth Warren is a white woman,” Mr. Wilkins said. “She may have some Native American roots, but so do most people.”
Mr. Ayyadurai, who has four degrees from MIT, argued that no elite university would admit to hiring professors based in large part on their ethnicity, but that it’s an important consideration behind the scenes.
“These institutions want to give the facade that they base everything on merit. They would never say they hired her because she’s a Native American. That’s never going to happen,” Mr. Ayyadurai said. “This is nonsense. They think we’re all stupid.”
Ms. Warren has explained that she based her Native American identification on family lore she’s not an enrolled member of any tribe and while she has never publicly apologized, she did say that she regretted her failure to recognize the difference.
“I wish that I had been more mindful of the distinction between heritage and tribal citizenship,” Ms. Warren said in the Saturday article. “Only the tribes can determine tribal citizenship and I respect their right. That’s why now I don’t list myself here in the Senate as Native American.”