Today’s Globe has a hilarious and pathetic op-ed from Eric Fehrnstrom, consultant to several losing candidates from Massachusetts (notably for present purposes, Scott Brown in 2012). Fehrnstrom, who revels in concern-trolling, thinks that Elizabeth Warren would be a poor choice for vice president. Guess why?
If Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton puts Warren on the ticket, Clinton will be engulfed in an affirmative action controversy over whether her running mate claimed to be Native American to advance her career…. [I]t’s the Native American issue that has the potential to create a Rachel Dolezal-type spectacle that will send Clinton’s campaign crashing to earth.
It doesn’t, actually. But dream on, Eric.
Warren’s defenders believe the issue was laid to rest when she beat Republican Scott Brown in the 2012 senatorial election. (Disclosure: I was a consultant to Brown in that race).
That’s like saying Chappaquiddick was neutralized as an issue for Senator Ted Kennedy because he won reelection in Massachusetts following the 1969 accident. In a national campaign, everything old is new again.
Hmm, right, because a listing in a law school faculty directory is very similar to being involved in the death of another person. Makes total sense. Thanks for the disclosure, though.
Warren was a Rutgers Law School graduate who held various teaching positions at public universities until she started to list herself as “Native American” in directories published by the Association of American Law Schools. From there, her career took off.
Warren attained a full professorship at the University of Pennsylvania. Then Harvard came calling, and she became the only tenured professor there who had graduated from a public law school.
This is a curious line of argument from someone who, one assumes, is sympathetic with the usual Republican protests against “coastal elites.” Fehrnstrom seems to be saying that no graduate of a public law school could ever be good enough to teach at Harvard purely on academic merit. Absurd, of course. But do go on…
Harvard would go on to cite Warren in defending itself from charges the faculty lacked diversity.
Warren and her former colleagues insist her claim to minority status played no role in her rising career…. To this day, Harvard refuses to release the personnel records that would settle the matter once and for all.
Chronology is important here, and Fehrnstrom is ignoring it. Back in 2012, I spent a good deal of time looking over contemporaneous accounts of Harvard Law’s wooing and eventual hiring of Warren. From those accounts, most of which come from the Harvard Crimson newspaper (which was strongly in favor of increasing the diversity of Harvard’s law faculty), it seems extremely unlikely that Native American heritage had anything to do with Warren’s hiring. After reviewing dozens of articles, here’s what I concluded:
The bottom line: there was a lot of talk about the fact that Elizabeth Warren is a woman, and that Harvard Law School didn’t have a very good record at the time of tenuring women faculty. But, as far as I can tell, her Native American heritage was not publicly mentioned until at least a year after she was hired. Since it’s well known that the lack of minority women on Harvard Law’s faculty had been a hot issue for years – recall then-law student Barack Obama’s now-famous introduction of Derrick Bell, who ultimately gave up his Harvard professorship over the issue, at a law school rally in 1990 - it would be extraordinary if Warren’s background were known but never mentioned.
The fact that the student-run – and diversity-supporting – Harvard Crimson never thought to mention Warren’s heritage, even in its Feb. 22, 1995 editorial praising her hiring – seems to strongly support Professor Charles Fried’s insistence that Warren’s background simply never came up in the hiring process. We don’t know, because Harvard won’t say, what led law school spokesman Mike Chmura to comment publicly on her background in 1996, apparently for the first time, but even his 1996 comment supports the notion that precious few people at Harvard were aware of Warren’s heritage, since he said that the “conventional wisdom among students and faculty” was that even after Warren’s hiring, there were no minority women at Harvard Law. In any event, that comment seems to have made Warren’s Native American heritage part of the narrative at Harvard, judging from subsequent Crimson stories. But it seems clear that, while Warren’s gender was certainly relevant to her hiring by Harvard, her Native American ancestry was not.
It’s true that Harvard hasn’t released its personnel records. I’m not sure that releasing confidential personnel records over something like this would ever be a good idea. But, in any event, there really is zero evidence that I’m aware of tending to show that Warren’s hiring was related to the issue of Native American heritage.
This is maybe my favorite line of Fehrnstrom’s piece:
Even though she won election due to a heavy Democratic turnout, the controversy damaged Warren. She underperformed President Obama by 15 points, lost independents and, according to exit polls, ended up less popular on Election Day than her rival.
Wow. Talk about a sore loser (as well as failing to take responsibility for your own shortcomings). Eric, Warren whipped your candidate – a sitting U.S. Senator, drove him out of the state, and relegated him to hawking shady diet pills. #Bqhatevwr.
All of that said, this piece really isn’t Fehrnstrom’s fault. It’s exactly what you would expect from him. The fault lies with the Boston Globe, who really should decline to publish drivel like this. It does not advance public discourse. It just requires those of us who took the time to debunk these claims four years ago to do so again. We all have better things to do.