June 08, 2012

Warren's neon "pick me" sign

Elizabeth Warren compounds her problemRather than addressing whether she falsely claimed to be a minority, Warren wants the focus on whether she got any “special breaks” as a result. She knows she has a much better chance of at least breaking even on the “special breaks” narrative because we’ll never see a smoking gun that proves she was given preferential treatment as a minority hire.

Boards that make hiring and firing decisions rarely say (out loud) things like, “let’s hire that woman because she’s a Native American,” or, “that guy deserves to be fired, but let’s keep him because he’s black.” An applicant’s minority status is always the unspoken elephant in the room because there’s no upside to declaring openly that a hiring or firing decision is “based on” an individual’s minority status. There are, however, silently understood benefits when universities create the appeaance of diversity. Wealthy non-Anglo and foreign families (who spend billions sending children to American universities) consider things like faculty diversity during the college selection process. And civil rights lawsuits are more easily defended if a school can show evidence of diversity on campus.

Warren may well sincerely believe that she deserves to teach at Harvard Law School, and she may even have the intelligence to teach there, but if she’s that smart, she knows that law professors far more qualified that she don’t even apply for positions at Harvard because they know that being a genius is not enough. Academic pedigree matters more, and she didn’t have the right credentials. By listing herself as a minority in a national directory of law school personnel she was effectively putting a glowing neon “pick me” sign next to her name for universities looking to increase their quotas on minority hires.

It probably didn’t hurt, either, that Warren happens to be married to Harvard Law Professor Bruce Mann, even though being married to a valued professor isn’t enough, alone, to get someone like Warren a serious job at Harvard. Like many schools, Harvard has its share of “tolerated spouses” who, no matter how smart they are, will never get “real jobs” as law professors. “Tolerated spouses” get paid to do busy work, and keep the valued husband or wife happy.

Warren made it way past “tolerated spouse,” and whether she sees the causal connection between her claimed minority status or not, there’s an old legal doctrine that renders her personal opinion that she got the job solely on merit essentially irrelevant. “Res ipsa loquitor” means “the thing speaks for itself.” The way it works is simple. If there’s no other reasonable explanation for why something happened, an obvious inference is sufficient to prove the point. For example, if you eat only one piece of sushi, and you become sick from food poisoning, it’s fair to infer that the sushi made you sick–even if the fish is no longer available for testing.

Elizabeth Warren’s employment experience at Harvard is kind of like the res ipsa doctrine applied to rotten sushi. A document will never be produced that says “Harvard Law School hired Elizabeth Warren because she is a minority.”

So voters are left with concepts like logic, “if it walks like a duck… etc.,” and Occam’s Razor, the simplest explanation is usually correct, to draw their own conclusions. Whatever the pathway to decision-making, voters should be loath to consider the issue settled or unimportant. Much as she might be a worthy candidate for Congress, Elizabeth Warren should be judged harshly not only for falsely claiming to be a minority but also for not taking it seriously, and not accepting responsibility, when she got caught.
Comment:  One small problem with this analysis. Warren's claim isn't false, it's unproved. She believes it's true, and no one has proved definitively that it's not true.

She didn't say a particular ancestor was Cherokee; she said that somewhere in the past she has Cherokee ancestors. Unless someone can prove that 100% of her ancestors were European, the issue remains unresolved.

But I agree with the main point. Describing herself as a minority with no thought of using it to advance her career is ridiculous. Of course that's why she did it. And for that she should've had documentation, not unreliable family stories.

For more on Elizabeth Warren, see Warren Should Apologize to Minorities and Warren:  Who Questions Their Parents?


dmarks said...

"Unless someone can prove that 100% of her ancestors were European, the issue remains unresolved.?"

Huh? The idea that a dubious claim like this is true unless proven otherwise would mean that we must assume that 99% of white Americans have Cherokee ancestors unless proven otherwise

I suppose that the only whites you can be 100% sure won't have any Cherokee ancestors are the immigrants from the Ukraine and others like that.

Anonymous said...

A lot of it, dmarks, is this: Many people seem to think that their political choices are infallible. They're not. Obama's African AIDS policy is a bunch of woowoo, but I support him on most things. But I do point out the woowoo in his AIDS policy when it comes up.

Also, it's res ipsa loquitur.

Rob said...

Unresolved means unresolved: not yet proved true or false. It's not a synonym for "true."

I've said that Warren can say whatever she wants about her background in informal settings. In formal settings, such as a job application, she should have documentation for her claims.