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Hey, if Elizabeth Warren is Indian, then maybe I am, too!

RGNStPaulsI confess to a several personal emotions in reaction to the Elizabeth Warren case.

Elizabeth Warren, if you recall, is the Harvard Law Professor now running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts who identified herself to her employers and in law school directories as Native American. But it turns out that she has at most 1/32 Indian ancestry, and even that much can’t be verified.

First emotion: “I get it!”

Anyone who has been a law professor (as I was for 25 years) can understand the incentives for this kind of prevarication. Most law professors want to move up the professorial/professional ladder, and it’s a lot easier to do so these days if you can claim minority affiliation. It is very tough for white law professors to jump to higher-ranked schools (particularly males).

This is not speculation. At the point in my career when I was working my way up, faculty and officials at schools for which I was well-qualified admitted they were, as one hiring committee member phrased it, “Not in white male hiring mode.” After an especially egregious episode at another law school, I even went to the EEOC. But I never filed a claim because I knew it would absolutely terminate any hope of academic advancement.

Second emotion: Outrage. Professor Warren claims she didn’t tell Harvard about her purported Indian ancestry until after she was hired. But her credibility is shot; so assuming this is another untruth, it helps explain why Harvard—a school that does not commonly hire faculty with degrees from middle-level law schools like Rutgers—employed her. In one hire it gave them a double-jump forward in the “diversity” game: minority and female.

Third emotion: Wistfulness. With an Indian great-great grandmother (that makes me 1/16 Native American) and a father of Hispanic-Jewish extraction, I probably have more claim to minority status than does Elizabeth Warren. But I have never asserted minority status. Partly this has been philosophical, but partly it is because I have always thought that doing so would be ridiculous. Maybe I was wrong on latter point, because an even weaker claim proved sufficiently non-ridiculous to work well for Professor Warren’s career. After all, she wound up her academic life at Harvard, served in the White House as one of the President’s czars, and may yet be elected to the U.S. Senate. Not bad.

Fourth emotion: Relief—that I’m out of legal academia, and in the private sector working with people who judge people on their merits and don’t accept government funds.

Rob Natelson