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Elizabeth Warren says she told Harvard, Penn of Native American heritage

Elizabeth Warren acknowledged she had told Harvard and Penn that she was Native American. When the issue first surfaced, Warren said she only learned Harvard was claiming her as a minority when she read it in the Boston Herald.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren acknowledged for the first time late Wednesday night that she told Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania that she was Native American, but she continued to insist that race played no role in her recruitment.

“At some point after I was hired by them, I . . . provided that information to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard,’’ she said in a statement issued by her campaign. “My Native American heritage is part of who I am, I’m proud of it and I have been open about it.’’

Warren’s statement is her first acknowledgment that she identified herself as Native American to the Ivy League schools. While she has said she identified herself as a minority in a legal directory, she has carefully avoided any suggestion during the last month that she took further actions to promote her purported heritage.


When the issue first surfaced last month, Warren said she only learned Harvard was claiming her as a minority when she read it in the Boston Herald.

Warren’s new statement came after the Globe asked her campaign about documents it obtained Wednesday from Harvard’s library. The documents show that the university’s law school began reporting a Native American female professor in federal statistics for the 1992-93 school year, the first year Warren worked at Harvard, as a visiting professor.

A campaign official said they had no records indicating that she had informed Harvard of Native American heritage that year.

The official further said that Warren had been unable to answer questions about the issue before now because the events occurred years ago, and many of the details had been forgotten, so she had asked her campaign to thoroughly review the evidence. The campaign declined to say whether Warren provided the information to Harvard and Penn verbally or by checking a box on a form.


Harvard’s records do not list a Native American during the two years Warren returned to her post at the University of Pennsylvania, but begin to list one again in 1995-96, when she returned to Cambridge as a tenured professor.

Two key people who recruited her to Harvard have said they did not know of her purported heritage or take it into account when hiring her. The school did not promote her as a Native American when she was hired, despite the fact that it was under intense pressure to diversify its faculty with more minorities.

Federal statistics like those in the Harvard records, which were compiled for the Department of Labor, rely on a definition of “Native American’’ that requires both ancestry and an official affiliation with a tribe or community. The 1992-93 and 1995-96 Harvard reports indicate the university relied on that definition during those years as well as the years since.

Warren has not met any of those standards. Though she continues to consider herself Native American, she has not provided any genealogical evidence.

In a May 2 interview with the Globe, Warren suggested that she did not list her ethnicity on applications because she was personally recruited by the universities where she taught. Asked how the issue first came up or how she first reported herself as a minority, she said, “But that’s what I’m trying to say - there was no, there is no reporting for this. It came up in lunch conversation once with faculty, after the fact.’’


Warren had previously said only that she indicated minority status in an Association of American Law Schools directory used to make diversity-friendly hires beginning in the 1986-87 school year, the year before she was hired at Penn. She stopped listing herself in the directory in 1995, the year she became a tenured professor at Harvard.

In the early 1980s, before Warren’s time in the Ivy League, she indicated on an official University of Texas form that she was white. She also had the option to indicate Native American heritage at that point, but did not check that box.

Current forms from Harvard, Penn, and Texas explicitly show federal racial definitions next to the boxes to be checked, though forms from the mid-1990s may not have spelled out those definitions, said Robert Warrior, director of American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an enrolled member of the Osage Nation.

The Harvard records show the law school began to report a Native American woman for the academic year 1992-93. The Native American woman did not appear anywhere in the statistics for 1993-1994 or 1994-1995. During those years, Warren was back at the University of Pennsylvania, having rejected Harvard’s first attempt in February 1993 to court her for a tenured position.

After Warren returned to Penn, Harvard continued to pursue her.

On Wednesday, Breitbart.com reported that Robert Clark, former dean of the law school, said that to the best of his recollection, he was unaware of her purported ancestry when she was offered the job in February 1993, but learned of it before she joined the faculty in 1995.


Professor Charles Fried, who sat on the committee that recommended hiring Warren, reiterated to the Globe on Wednesday that he was unaware of Warren’s minority status when she was hired. He said that the committee never discussed it and that he does not consult the legal directory in which Warren had listed herself as a minority.

However, Fried acknowledged Wednesday to the Globe, it seemed strange that the issue of her heritage would not have come up during the hiring process since she was recruited in the early 1990s, when the school was under intense pressure to diversify its faculty.

Fried added that he learned of Warren’s purported heritage only after she was on the faculty, when he had dinner at her home and asked her about a family picture.

Before coming to Harvard, Warren taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s law school for seven years. For at least three of those years - 1991, 1992, and 1994 - an internal publication drawing on statistics from the university’s federal affirmative action report listed one Native American female professor in the university’s law school. Penn’s library does not have a report for the year Warren was visiting at Harvard.

It is unlikely that Harvard or Penn would be censured for misreporting data to the federal labor or education departments. The education department’s penalties for inaccurate reporting focus mostly on widespread violations related to financial aid.


News of the Harvard records left Ken Pepion, the administrator in charge of the university’s Native American Program from 1999 to 2003, confounded.

Pepion said in an interview with the Globe on Wednesday that he did not believe the school had any permanent Native American faculty during his time there. He added that he never interacted with Warren or heard about her purported heritage while he was at Harvard - even though the law school’s chief handler of diversity statistics, Alan Ray, was charged with telling him of anyone on staff with a likely interest in Native American affairs. If Ray had ever told him about a Native American in the law school, he said, “I would have remembered that.’’

Pepion said he was personally troubled by the idea that someone might indicate Native American heritage on a form solely “for the purpose of gaining some leverage in terms of either a job position or entry into a competitive college or university.’’

Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this story. Mary Carmichael can be reached at mary.carmichael@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @mary_carmichael.