A California professor who has been accused for years of faking her Native American heritage after once slamming white women for “opting to become Indian” will retire from her teaching position after negotiating an agreement with the school.
University of California, Riverside ethnic studies professor Andrea Smith’s teaching career at the university will come to an end in August 2024, according to a separation agreement reported on by the New York Times. The retirement comes after 13 faculty members filed an August 2022 complaint claiming Smith had lied about her Cherokee identity and violated academic integrity.
But as part of the agreement signed in January, the university won’t probe the faculty complaint and Riverside will pony up as much as $5,000 for Smith toward any legal costs tied to resolving the complaint, the Times reported.
The university never conducted a formal inquiry after the complaint was lodged, but had informal talks with Smith, Insider Higher Ed reported, also citing the agreement.
“The negotiated separation agreement brings a timely conclusion to Professor Smith’s continued employment with the university,” a school spokesperson told the Times.
“Investigations of a tenured faculty member for alleged misconduct have potential for litigation and appeals, and can unfold over the course of years.”
Smith will be allowed to teach until she leaves, keep her retirement benefits and have an honorary emeritus status, but it won’t be listed on the university’s directory, the Times reported.
Smith previously rebuked claims that she was faking her identity in a 2015 statement even though she was not enrolled with the Cherokee Nation.
“I have always been, and will always be Cherokee,” she said.
“I have consistently identified myself based on what I knew to be true. My enrollment status does not impact my Cherokee identity or my continued commitment to organizing for justice for Native communities.”
While some Native scholars were pleased to see Smith on her way out, they were bothered she wouldn’t be investigated by the school.
“She deflects, angles and wriggles — and here it is again,” Harvard professor Philip Deloria told the Times. Deloria and Smith were colleagues when the two previously taught at the University of Michigan.
Smith ironically once wrote in a 1991 essay that white feminists “often want to dissociate themselves from their whiteness. They do this by opting to ‘become Indian.’”
“In this way, they can escape responsibility and accountability for white racism,” she wrote. “Of course, white ‘feminists’ want to become only partly Indian.”
Smith’s identity came under a microscope in 2008 after she was rejected for tenure at the University of Michigan, though she soon landed at Riverside, the Times reported.
One of the professors who filed the most recent complaint told the newspaper he raised the issue because fake identity claims hurt tribal communities.
“Identities are one of the last things we have that are precious and that we have control over,” said ethnic studies professor Gerald Clarke, who is part of the Cahuilla Band of Indians.