Trail of Tears

Revelations of Elizabeth Warren’s 1/32nd Cherokee heritage raise new questions about her academic career

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May 11, 2012

Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign faces mounting scrutiny as new revelations regarding her heritage reopen questions about her academic career.

Warren has faced a firestorm of controversy since it was revealed that the American Association of Law Schools directory listed her as a "minority" between 1984 and 1995 based on her slight Cherokee heritage, which she claims to have learned about through her family’s oral history. Harvard Law School hired Warren as a visiting professor in 1992 and promoted her questionable Cherokee roots as evidence of its faculty’s diversity.

"Law schools make no secret of the fact that they’re striving for ‘diversity’ and that they’re trying to hire people from underrepresented groups, including Native Americans," said Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity.

The 2011 Harvard Faculty Development and Diversity Report lists one senior Native American faculty member at Harvard Law School in the final year Warren was eligible for inclusion in the report. Harvard University has neither confirmed nor denied that Warren is the faculty member listed as "Native American."

After questions about her heritage began pouring in, it was revealed that Warren is only 1/32nd Cherokee.

Massachusetts Republican Party chairman Robert Maginn wrote a letter to Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust raising the possibility that Warren may have deceived the school about her heritage when she applied for a teaching job.

"By Harvard’s own Code and precedent, Ms. Warren’s actions require an investigation, and if necessary, disciplinary action," Maginn wrote. "Not doing so undermines precisely why Harvard is the leading institution of higher learning," wrote Maginn, a Harvard alumnus and donor.

"The American Bar Association pressures schools to ensure that there’s racial and ethnic diversity. It would be surprising—to put it mildly—if a school like Harvard did not take this into consideration when interviewing Professor Warren," Clegg said.

Warren graduated from Rutgers School of Law-Newark in 1976, and began her teaching career there in 1977.

The school is the lowest-ranked law school from which any current Harvard Law School professor has graduated, and has the second-lowest ranking of the alma maters of approximately 350 Ivy League law professors, a Washington Examiner analysis found.

After two years at Rutgers, Warren then taught at the University of Houston Law Center and the University of Texas School of Law, where her teaching duties overlapped with her position as a research associate.

Warren produced only two full-length works during this period in her career: a "published grant application" with two co-authors and a teachers’ manual.

Her first full-length title, "Consumer Choices in Bankruptcy," was written with two other authors. It was published as a "grant application" by the National Science Foundation Archives in 1983, the year Warren joined the University of Texas. It is listed as "Funded Proposal #8310193."

Warren was first listed as a Native American in the Association of American Law Schools directory in 1984.

The second work, Teachers Manual, The Law of Debtors and Creditors, was published by Little, Brown & Co. in 1986—the year before Warren received her first Ivy League teaching job.

Warren’s few additional published writings during this time include a book review for the Texas Law Journal, a lending officers manual for the Texas Bankers Association, and a handful of articles in law journals.

Despite her thin bibliography, Warren began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law in 1987.

The Boston Globe reported Thursday that the University of Pennsylvania also touted Warren as a minority faculty member. A 2005 university report on the "status of minority faculty across the university" lists Warren as the recipient of a 1994 faculty award; her name is bolded, which denotes minority status in the report. Warren was a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania until 1995.

Warren’s husband, Bruce Mann, also joined the University of Pennsylvania faculty in 1987.

Mann previously held visiting professorships at the University of Houston and the University of Texas. He is currently a Harvard Law School professor.

"When you interview for law school positions, they’re very interested in what you’ve written, and they look very hard at your publications," Clegg said. "That’s supposed to be a very important aspect of the hiring process."

Warren became a visiting professor of commercial law at Harvard in 1992 and received a permanent position in 1995.

Harvard was experiencing racial controversy on campus at the time of her hiring. Professor Derrick Bell denounced Harvard Law School for not having a minority female professor on staff, according to reports. Harvard officials also were facing legal consequences from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination for the university’s perceived lack of faculty diversity.

Warren did not participate in any Native American events during her time on the Harvard campus, according to the executive director of Harvard University’s Native American Program.

The Warren campaign is spooked by the questions regarding her background, experts say.

"Obviously, it's enough of a polled issue that the Warren campaign has addressed it several times," said Massachusetts-based pollster David Paleologus. "She knows she should only address this if she thinks there are independents out there—and this whole race comes down to independents—that will be affected by it."

Warren is currently tied with incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown, according to the most recent Rasmussen poll. Both candidates have 45 percent in the poll.

The Warren campaign did not respond to a request for comment.