Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ms. Warren's Profession

If you read the papers or listen to the media, including NPR, you might be pardoned for thinking that Professor Elizabeth Warren, running against a totally bogus man-of-the-people Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts, is a dingbat. She put down she was of Cherokee ancestry and it turns out she'ssomething like 1/32 of a Cherokee. 

Now you might be tempted to regard this as appropriately dealt with by responding BFD, which is probably what Prof. Warren should have said. But what is bothersome, aside from the media's love of horse races and non-issues, is that the ridiculousness of the whole brouhaha has eluded the media and thus the public.

They've made it sound like she was puffing up her resume by claiming special preference as a Native American or Indian, as many of the tribes prefer to be called (except for their first preference--the name of the "nation"or tribe itself).  Actually, it was that place that needs to burnish its credential, my wonderful alma mater, Harvard Law, that was using her 1/32 status. Harvard wanted to show that it hires minorities so they pressed everyone to give them some input they could use, apparently.

Aside from noting that this is where paying so much attention to people's ancestry gets us, the really big point totally obscured by this nonsense is that Professor Warren was actively recruited by Harvard, which managed to convince her to come to Cambridge from a full professorship at Penn. While at Penn, she had established herself as the absolutely leading academic in the bankruptcy law field. Harvard wanted her, sure she likely felt that becoming Crimson wouldn't be such a bad move for her, either.

Instead, we are led to believe she pulled an affirmative action card to get hired, which yes, others have done, even at Harvard, horror of horrors. I did some work in the bankruptcy field, and took some courses in it. When I was so engaged the leading experts were all men: Frank Kennedy at Michigan, Homer Kripke at NYU, James Wm. Moore at Yale (yes, Yale has had greats who specialized in such down-to-earth fields--and yes, he was the Moore of Moore's Federal Practice), and Vern Countryman at Harvard, an incredibly tough Westerner whom I had for the Debtor and Creditor course. It used to be called Creditors' Rights and since then, it has even more reason to be called that.

But Professor Warren is now and has been for some years the doyenne of this field. So she is no poseur. I wish someone would have the gumption to say this so they could be heard. What's been suggested thus far is like saying that the Institute of Advanced Study located at Princeton hired Albert Einstein to show that they were willing to hire German-speaking Jewish immigrants. (Well, maybe Princeton U needed some of that kind of affirmative action in those days...)

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