The Elizabeth Warren Affirmative Action Dust-Up

Pictured: a wild-eyed savage delighting in the destruction of the civilization of the West; and a Cherokee warrior, ca. 1836

AceOfSpadesHQ is having fun with Harvard's alleged use of Elizabeth Warren's citing of perhaps spurious Cherokee ancestry to demonstrate its commitment to minority hiring. As usual, the humorous point wins me over completely, but Ace loses me when he suggests that Warren might not have landed her cushy job at Harvard without this maneuver. Warren was my bankruptcy law professor when she was but a professor at the lowly University of Houston law school, back in the Pleistocene. She was a fine teacher and a very, very bright woman with an organized mind, not at all given to partisan harangues. In the decades since, she's remained in the public eye -- public in the context of bankruptcy lawyers -- publishing a number of quantitative papers about the results of real bankruptcy cases. She seems a perfect match for the Harvard Law milieu.  I don't agree with her politics, but there's nothing wrong with her professional achievements.


Grim said...

I don't generally read Ace, but I can see how -- if you didn't have the direct, personal knowledge that you have of her -- you might suspect that she had been playing the system.

That's really the problem for a talented, qualified person who happens also to be a member of a minority group that gets preferential hiring: it puts an asterisk beside every accomplishment. Even should she be elected to the Senate, people will still say, "Well, but she wouldn't have been considered if she hadn't done X and Y, which she got because of these preferences; and she couldn't have done that if it weren't for getting into school Z, with scholarship Q, which..." And so forth. They have to be very talented and professional indeed to overcome that stigma.

It was therefore bad judgment for someone who didn't need or deserve such preferential treatment to make use of it, even though we understand why a young person seeking work today would try to scrounge up every such claim they could manage. Every Federal job application asks you whole batteries of questions about your ethnicity, disabled status, sex, Hispanic/Latino background, and so forth. If you were looking for your first job (or in this economy, any job), you might well be tempted to game the system a little bit. There is a price for doing so, though.

This is even more true where the government is motivated to try to fill slots, as in the case of the college trying to prove its 'diversity' for self-defense reasons. Consider how motivated the Secret Service is to get women agents right now, being under fire for having only 11% of the Presidential detail being female, and male agents having recently embarrassed the President by demonstrating one of those cultures that invites Tailhook-style hearings.

Any woman who gets appointed in the next little while is going to be under suspicion for her whole career. She'll have to work ten times as hard as everyone else to avoid the stigma.

She certainly wouldn't want to add to it by creating a spurious claim for additional preference points! And that seems to be exactly what Dr. Warren did.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I didn't know bankruptcy law was your thing. I have an uncle was professor of that at UC-Davis

MikeD said...

That's really the problem for a talented, qualified person who happens also to be a member of a minority group that gets preferential hiring: it puts an asterisk beside every accomplishment.

That certainly is a problem. But here's one that troubles me more... she seems to be claiming that "she can't recall" if she claimed minority heritage when she applied for the job. Which is either an indication of severe brain trauma, or dishonesty. If it's the former, she needs to seek treatment, if it's the later, she needs to be sued for fraud. Do you know what would happen to me if I falsified my resume to claim I had qualifications I did not have? At best, I could hope to be fired. But it seems that Harvard is just going to elide right past that. But were I to try that, do you think that a claim I made on my application that I cannot prove to be true would just be overlooked? If so, you know, I've got some lovely ocean-side property in Idaho I'd love to sell.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The Cherokee angle may still have helped her. A lot of people want those teaching slots, and and many of them have superb qualifications. Many of those unchosen are likely just as worthy.

This is what rankles people about much of affirmative action in general - that it helps cherokees and women and technically disabled people who were going to do just fine in life anyway get that last extra bump they need. The public's perception may be wrong on that, and it is certainly fair that the last bits of discrimination that keep people off the top shelf be eliminated. But they are hardly of much benefit to cherokees or women in general.

Texan99 said...

They say the best defense against slander is to live so that no one would believe it. I never knew her to be flaky or dishonest, or heard anyone in our professional community suggest any such thing. If she had a family tradition of a long-ago Cherokee connection, it wouldn't surprise me that she checked a box on a application 25 or 30 years ago without giving it much thought then or since. It certainly wouldn't surprise me that the university's PR department then milked it for whatever it was worth in their brochures and websites; they're always desperate to burnish their diversity statistics.

I couldn't agree more that a tragedy of affirmative action is the shadow it casts on the achievements of every group it tries to help. We didn't get much a grace period between the time when a woman could barely get serious consideration for her hard-won professional achievements and credentials because she wasn't in the good old boy's club, and the time when she either was, or was conclusively assumed to, be a shoo-in simply because she was a woman. Or a Jew, or a Cherokee, or whatever. Pah on the whole business. I spit it out. Our whole club has to be white men; our whole club can't include any white men at all -- how about if we just look at what people can do?

Eric Blair said...

I've noticed that the use of "Native American" is actually declining--probably because everybody who was born in America is a 'native' strictly speaking.

I tend to check that box when being asked, although, like I said, the use of it is declining, and I see more specific choices like "American Indian" or "Alaska Native" or "Polynesian Islander" cropping up.

My favorite though, is to check 'other' and write "Human" in the race box.

douglas said...

Tex, your argument is good, but it's not hers- after all, she supports affirmative action, right? I think a follow on post at Ace's gets it- it's the hypocrisy of it all, along with the issues of honesty, and problems with preferential treatment in general. I'm sure, like most people that I vehemently disagree with on political issues, she's generally a nice person, but that doesn't negate that she is espousing policies that do great harm, and has moved into the public realm to push those polices forward. This is valid criticism of her, and she asked for it by running for office. Other than that, I wish her well.

Texan99 said...

I definitely don't want to see her run that commission. And it's true that, if affirmative action bites her in the ass, she has only herself to blame. I just hate the effect on the system generally, and I happen to know that the currently burgeoning assumption that she's an AA lightweight is nonsense. Normally I have little way of judging whether that's true or not, but in this case I do. Anything about the system that tarnishes her reputation without reference to her own professional accomplishments tarnishes mine equally and in the same way, so I resist it vehemently out of self-interest as well as out of sense of justice.

Whether she's a nice person or not, I have no idea. I knew her only professionally. All I can vouch for is that she's very smart and competent, as well as intellectually honest, and hasn't done anything so far in her rather long career to expose her to allegations of any other kind of dishonesty. All I have against her is that I disagree with her politics.

karrde said...

So, there is evidence floating up that Ms. Warren is 1/32 Cherokee.

It is mentioned in this post here.

Whether that helps or hurts her case (or her reputation for having honestly earned a position at Harvard Law), it is instructive to note that this appears to be an application of the "just one drop" rule of racial identification.

And the confusion over how much her minority status helped her get a position at Harvard Law shows how Affirmative Action can have results that hurt those it is designed to help.

Gringo said...

And the confusion over how much her minority status helped her get a position at Harvard Law shows how Affirmative Action can have results that hurt those it is designed to help.

Which was Clarence Thomas's point. I don't have his precise academic record from Holy Cross, but as I recall he graduate with honors and may have graduated as high as 8th in his class. If so, such a record would have supported his admission to Yale Law without AA.

Grim said...

Everyone in Georgia is at least 1/32nd Cherokee or Creek. Heck, most of the "Eastern Band of Cherokee," as they call themselves, are as white as I am. There's a store up in Dillard, GA, that sells all these kitch-type Indian goods called "Blue-Eyed Buffalo."

So do we all get racial preferences? That's one way of ending affirmative action: it turns out that everyone can claim it.

Texan99 said...

I don't mind at all if people get racial preferences from each other; anyone who's sitting on an oil well and wants to share its proceeds with people it thinks share a great-grandparent or two is fine with me. I just wish our government would get out of the business and stay out of it. Families are families and the state is the state. They can and should run by different rules.

bthun said...

"Grim said... @8:24 AM"

I think once that gets out, the Eastern Band of Cherokee will be relegated to the same pile of non-inclusion for Federal SPECIAL status as the rest of the U.S. band of Euro-Mutts. 1/32! Sheesh...

"Texan99 said... @8:37 AM"

As it should be but as it stands, there's little likelihood of the Federales clipping their own wings, much less their intrusive snouts.

*Which causes the hun to recall conversations, maybe here at The Hall, on the matter of who votes... themselves access to the Treasury*

Texan99 said...

I see Ace has taken to calling her Elizabeth "Dances with Socialism" Warren.

Grim said...

I saw one I liked better: "Little Big Liar."

bthun said...

Prevaricates With High Cheekbones.

She Who Hunts for Teepee.

Running Bear loved the Little White Lie.


I'll stop here, it only gets worse... =8^}

RonF said...

The issue here is that there's a difference between "Was not qualified for the job" and "Would not have gotten the job." Numerous qualified people apply for jobs at Harvard. I'm sure that she was qualified for the job - but so were a whole bunch of other people, none of whom, I'll guess, checked off the "Native American" box on their job application. Any one of them would probably have been as good at it as she has been - but they didn't get it, and she did.

Texan99 said...

That's true, and as a result of affirmative-action policies, no one will ever know whether she would have gotten the job on an even playing field or not. After all, even if she hadn't checked the "Native American" box, she's indisputably a woman. In an affirmative-action world, she'll always be exposed to suspicion on that count.

On the other hand, for many years the same suspicious charge could be leveled at rich white males favored by legacy rules. If Charles Murray is correct, the Ivy Leagues didn't really go meritocratic until the mid-20th century; before that, they stuck with fine young fellows with proper backgrounds and a whole lot of disposable income. If you were crazy smart but Jewish, Asian, or female, well, tough.

I don't see any solution other than to refuse to consider or talk about anyone's identity-politics credentials and focus instead on their achievements. Warren has a fine body of work. I haven't much use for the publications of most of her peers at Harvard. But it's certainly possible that she'd never have gotten a shot at a Harvard position strictly on the basis of her pedigree, back before she'd published all that work.

For people with any self-respect, affirmative action destroys everything. You practically have to win a Nobel Prize to overcome the suspicion that you cheated your way in, and even then people will wonder if the Nobel Prize committee has gone AA on us. I'd have spat on anyone who offered me a break in college because I was a pitiful female. I welcomed the anonymous grading system in my large freshman STEM classes, and again in my law school classes: it was the only way to avoid a lot of irrelevant and impertinent prejudgments of my ability in either the positive or the negative direction.