Despite what you might think about the “liberal” newspaper here in the People’s Republic, the Boston Globe has not always been sympathetic to Elizabeth Warren. But even if she hasn’t decided whether to run for higher office in 2020, the Globe has apparently decided she will, or should. Reporter Annie Linskey — again, not necessarily a friend to liberals, or to other women — did the in-depth reporting on the slur that will follow Warren like birtherism followed another Democrat:
The 60-plus Harvard Law School professors who filed into an auditorium-style room on the first floor of Pound Hall on that February 1993 afternoon had a significant question to answer: Should they offer a job to Elizabeth Warren?
The atmosphere was a little fraught. Outside the hall, students held a silent vigil to demand the law school add more minorities and women to a faculty dominated by white men.
The discussion among Harvard professors inside that room is supposed to remain a secret, but it’s still being dissected a quarter of a century later because the resulting vote set Warren on her way to becoming a national figure and a favored target for conservative critics, among them, notably and caustically, President Trump.
Was Warren on the agenda because, as her critics say, she had decided to self-identify as a Native American woman and Harvard saw a chance to diversify the law faculty? Did she have an unearned edge in a hugely competitive process? Or did she get there based on her own skill, hard work, and sacrifice?
The question, which has hung over Warren’s public life, has an answer.
In the most exhaustive review undertaken of Elizabeth Warren’s professional history, the Globe found clear evidence, in documents and interviews, that her claim to Native American ethnicity was never considered by the Harvard Law faculty, which voted resoundingly to hire her, or by those who hired her to four prior positions at other law schools. At every step of her remarkable rise in the legal profession, the people responsible for hiring her saw her as a white woman.
The Globe examined hundreds of documents, many of them never before available, and reached out to all 52 of the law professors who are still living and were eligible to be in that Pound Hall room at Harvard Law School. Some are Warren’s allies. Others are not. Thirty-one agreed to talk to the Globe — including the law professor who was, at the time, in charge of recruiting minority faculty. Most said they were unaware of her claims to Native American heritage and all but one of the 31 said those claims were not discussed as part of her hire. One professor told the Globe he is unsure whether her heritage came up, but is certain that, if it did, it had no bearing on his vote on Warren’s appointment…
Warren, in a lengthy interview that started in the sparsely decorated Penn Quarter condo where she stays in Washington and ended in her hideaway office in the US Capitol, opened up for the first time about her claims to Native American heritage. She explained that it was passed on to her as a fact of family lore and that a generation of women in her family were aging, and dying, in the late 1980s. As they faced mortality, Warren said, they focused more on the family’s American Indian ancestry, and the impression stuck with her.
Her grandmother, who shared many stories about ties to the Cherokee and Delaware tribes, died in 1969. Her daughters — Warren’s aunts — then took on the central place in the family. “As the sisters became the matriarchs, they began to talk more about their background and about their mother’s background,” Warren explained…
But this year, as she campaigns for reelection to the Senate and considers a 2020 presidential bid, she has taken a major step: releasing the contents of her university personnel files to the Globe after six years of rebuffing requests for them.
“You have what I have,” Warren said, pledging that she had turned over every record in her possession about her years as a teacher at five different law schools and a stint visiting at another. “My family is my family, but my background played no role in my getting hired anywhere.”…
.. Warren said she had always identified closely with her mother’s side of the family: a sprawling and rowdy group with scant resources who looked after one another, and who, according to family lore, have Cherokee and Delaware blood.
When her grandmother died in 1969, Warren’s mother and three aunts led the family and further impressed on her their proud Cherokee connection.
Then in the late 1980s, around the time that Warren began identifying professionally as Native American, she began losing them, too. Her aunt Mae Reed Masterson died in October 1989. Her aunt Alice Ann Reed Carnes died in August 1990. That left her mother and her aunt Bess Veneck, (aka Aunt Bee), who lived with Warren and helped her raise her children.
The two women in my life who have always been my guides through the world began to focus even more on the past,” Warren explained.
This is also when Warren was leaving the West behind, for good. And she wasn’t sure she wanted to try and fit in to the new East Coast culture.
“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,” said Warren, who noted she was a woman, a mother, and from a humble background and from Oklahoma. “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.”
Mann recalled the struggle his wife had initially when adjusting to Penn, a move they made more for his career than hers. “It was really hard for Elizabeth to leave Texas,” Mann said. “At Texas, they just energized her, and the East Coast was just a very, very different place.”
Warren’s mother died in July 1995, the same month Warren started her tenured job at Harvard Law School. Bess Veneck — her Aunt Bee — died in December 1999.
“They were dying,” said Warren. “I lost them all in that time period.”
Warren, as she has in prior interviews, said that she does not remember telling Penn to change her ethnicity on their forms. “I can’t recall specific conversations,” Warren said. “The best I can do is tell you the overall. There is no one thing that stands out in that time period.”
Warren’s colleagues at Penn at the time recall that she liked to make a point of talking about her Western heritage by referring to herself as an “Okie” and comparing her Western sensibility to their Eastern habits.
And in interviews during those years, she also talked extensively about her Oklahoma background. “I think the best thing that I can do for Penn students is be a woman and be from Oklahoma and to come from at best a working-class background,” Warren said to the Penn Law Forum in a November 1990 interview…
Assertions that Warren benefited from her Native American claims also assume that the Harvard Law School dean at the time, Robert Clark, was pushing for diversity. But it’s not at all clear that this was at the top of his mind.
While discussing affirmative action with the law school’s first black tenured professor, Clark famously said: “This is a university, not a lunch counter in the Deep South.” (Clark later apologized for the remark.)
Clark, who still teaches at Harvard, declined multiple interview requests. He has said in the past that he became aware of Warren’s Native American claims after she was offered a job…
… “I wish that I had been more mindful of the distinction between heritage and tribal citizenship,” Warren said, reflecting on the statistics and on her decision to list herself as Native American. “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.”…
It’s a long article, with a lot of detail, but the outline is simple: Warren is part of the generation of women who had to earn their place in the Big World by being twice as smart and working twice as hard. This will never be enough for the revanchists among whom it is an article of faith that anyone not a white man can only prosper through “cheating” a system where being a white man is the first and most significant requirement for success. But it’s not their world any longer, thanks to the efforts of people like Senator Elizabeth Warren!