Today, Robert Maginn, a Harvard graduate and Chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, sent the following letter to Harvard President Drew Faust calling for an investigation into Elizabeth Warren’s claims of being a minority:
Drew Gilpin Faust, President
Office of the President
Cambridge, MA 02138
Dear President Faust:
As a Harvard graduate and donor, I write regarding recent serious reports about the actions of one of Harvard University’s faculty members, Elizabeth Warren, that appear to constitute academic fraud, and to ask you to clarify how Harvard University is addressing Ms. Warren’s actions.
Harvard represents the pinnacle of academic accomplishment, innovation, and reputation, not only in the United States but worldwide. The singular basis for Harvard’s unique status is Harvard’s rigorous academic standards.
Ms. Warren’s actions potentially violate those standards. By Harvard’s own Code and precedent, Ms. Warren’s actions require an investigation, and if necessary, disciplinary action. Not doing so undermines precisely why Harvard is the leading institution of higher learning.
The underlying facts in this matter are clear. For almost a decade as a law professor, from 1984 through 1995, Elizabeth Warren designated herself as a “minority” in the American Association of Law Schools (“AALS”) deskbook. This was an affirmative step on her part – and something that she has admitted doing consciously and repeatedly. Her claim was based upon her assertion of Native American ancestry. As a result, the AALS deskbook classified Ms. Warren as a “minority law professor” for nine years.
While identifying herself as a minority, Ms. Warren joined the Harvard Law School as a Robert Baucher visiting professor of law in 1992 and was appointed the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law in 1995. At the time she became a permanent law professor, Harvard University touted Ms. Warren as the law school’s first female minority tenured professor, and identified her minority classification as Native American.
Notably, the AALS deskbook never specified which minority group Ms. Warren was claiming membership in. That is, it is clear that Harvard University’s knowledge of Ms. Warren’s claim to be a Native American did not come from the AALS deskbook.
In 1995, Ms. Warren said she de-listed herself as a minority law professor in the AALS deskbook, and since that time has not designated herself as a member of any minority group.
The problem is that Ms. Warren is not a Native American. She is Caucasian. Despite her insistence that she is an American Indian based upon “family lore” and her observation that some in her family had “high cheekbones like all the Indians do,” she has failed to produce a single shred of evidence to substantiate her claim.
Harvard Law School expressly states its commitment to academic honesty in the law school’s statement of community principles – which expressly binds professors as well as students to its standards:
The Law School’s commitments to fairness, respect for the rule of law, and free inquiry require an environment of trust and mutual respect, free expression and inquiry, and a commitment to truth, excellence, and lifelong learning. Students, program participants, faculty, staff, and alumni accept these principles when they join the HLS community and thereby agree to respect the rights, dignity, and differences of others, pursue honesty and integrity in dealing with all members of the community in person and on-line, and accept personal responsibility in these efforts.
Moreover, no less than the Coalition of Bar Associations of Color last year issued a resolution stating that precisely what Ms. Warren has done – “checking a box” that one is a minority, specifically a Native American, when one is not – constitutes “academic ethnic fraud.” Indeed, their resolution stresses that academic institutions perpetuate this dishonesty by failing to enforce academic fraud policies on violators. CBAC Resolution on Academic Ethnic Fraud, July 20, 2011.
Such academic fraud is particularly insidious at an institution such as Harvard, which places an emphasis and dedicates enormous resources to recruiting, developing, and supporting true minority faculty. Failing a thorough investigation, Ms. Warren’s actions will make a mockery of Harvard’s eloquently expressed commitment to diversity.
Harvard Law School’s emphasis on diversity is cogently stated by Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs and Chief of Staff Catherine Claypoole:
It is vital to the Law School’s mission of teaching, research, and service that the diversity of the faculty continue to increase in terms of backgrounds, points of view, and connections with worlds and fields of law study and practice. The Law School will continue to work creatively to broaden the pool of candidates from which it hires faculty and to provide a nurturing environment in which tenure-track faculty and aspiring scholars of all backgrounds can succeed.
Last week’s news report that Harvard may have continued to list Ms. Warren as a Native American in the Vice Provost’s 2011 official faculty diversity report – and Harvard’s unwillingness to simply confirm or deny this – makes it appear that Harvard itself is complicit in misrepresenting the true diversity of its law school faculty. (Hillary Chabot, “Harvard Won’t Say If Liz Warren Listed As Minority,” Boston Herald, May 4, 2012). Among the obvious questions that are likely to arise is did Harvard use factually inaccurate diversity data to make compensation-based decisions or to satisfy government applications for research funding.
This is not the first time the specter of academic fraud has confronted Harvard or other renowned colleges and universities. Fortunately, Harvard, and other institutions where similar behavior has been revealed, have taken action to protect their hard-earned reputations. Professors, coaches, and students who have inflated their resumes – or been otherwise dishonest in their accounting of themselves in the past have been held responsible by their institutions. Harvard must do so in this matter.
Our motto, Veritas, reflects our values; it is what has made Harvard what it is today, and so long as Harvard is willing to act to maintain it, Harvard will remain the worldwide standard for excellence. But Harvard’s motto, and its claim to such a standard, is not an entitlement. It is an ongoing responsibility.
Harvard must investigate Ms. Warren’s false claims to be a minority; how it came to pass that Harvard accepted these claims; and the extent to which Ms. Warren’s alleged minority status afforded her advantages to which she would not otherwise have been entitled.
Chairman, Massachusetts Republican Party
Cc: Martha Minow, Dean, Harvard Law School
Judith D. Singer, University Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity