Academia is one of the few venues in America where claiming membership in a minority group can potentially further your career, rather than, you know, the opposite. Are colleges adequately policing their professors’ ancestry claims, like true detectives?

On the one hand: everyone should agree that a white person claiming minority ancestry in order to further their academic career is very fucked up, because, apart from the general dishonesty, it serves to take away a spot from someone who is a minority, thereby acting against all the goals of diversity and fair play. On the other hand: how much do we want our universities to get into the private detective business? Inside Higher Ed today dives into this question at length, with a particular focus on those claiming relevant ancestry in the field of Native American studies. Various academic and governmental organizations and experts give the following theories on how the stated ancestry of professors should be policed and/ or verified:

  • The “the ethnicity ‘test’ is ‘self-identification as indigenous peoples at the individual level and accepted by the community as their member.’”
  • No, universities should require “documentation of enrollment in a state or federally recognized nation or tribe.”
  • No, universities should “accept” proof but not require it.
  • Universities “should build positive and productive working relationships with tribes” so that checking on disputed ancestry claims will be easier, particularly for people who are not officially registered as tribal members.
  • No, universities should “never ask a job applicant to provide any kind of ethnic documentation.”
  • It is “inappropriate” for universities to try to verify ethnicity.
  • Actually, “it would be a big step backward for institutions to begin verifying or certifying employees’ self-identified race or ethnicity.”

So, America’s academic communities agree: ancestry and ethnicity must be strictly verified or ancestry and ethnicity must never be verified. Or something in between.

The funniest thing about this debate is that our current national policy, “If you lie about your ethnicity we will unleash ‘Rachel Dolezal’ levels of internet outrage upon you,” is much harsher than anything the academy has proposed.

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