Andrea Smith, college professor, accused of lying about Native American background to retire from University of California-Riverside
A professor at the University of California, Riverside, long accused of fabricating her Native American heritage, is allowed to retire with full benefits and her title intact.
Professor of Ethnic Studies Andrea Smith will reportedly be allowed to keep her current position until August 2024. Until then she can teach.
The divorce deal comes in the wake of a recent complaint from more than a dozen faculty members, who accused her of violating academic integrity by lying about her Native American heritage.
The agreement is unusual because it allows Smith to keep all benefits and status, and because the university will pay Smith up to $5,000 to cover legal costs she incurred in resolving the complaint.
Smith and the school signed the deal in January. The terms avoid an investigation into the faculty complaint and allow Riverside to evade the legal battle that could result from the decision to fire a tenured professor.
Allegations that Smith repeatedly lied about her Native American heritage date back to at least 2008, when she was denied a tenure at the University of Michigan, prompting her supporters to rally behind her.
Andrea Smith has long been accused of lying about her Native American heritage, on which a significant portion of her career has been based
The University of California, Riverside supported Smith, whom they offered tenure until January, when the school negotiated an attractive divorce package with Smith. Her colleagues had filed a complaint against her for violation of scientific integrity
Upon her departure, she retains her benefit and may use the title of honorary emeritus.
A spokesman for the university said the agreement “constitutes a timely completion of Professor Smith’s continued employment with the university.”
“Investigations into a tenured faculty member for alleged misconduct may give rise to lawsuits and appeals, and may unfold over the years,” he added.
When the allegations first came to light in 2008, Smith’s dissertation advisor, famed radical activist, Marxist, and academic Angela Davis called her former student “one of the greatest indigenous feminist intellectuals of our time.”
After that episode, Cherokee academics began conducting their due diligence on Smith.
The academic Steve Russell found that despite much of her personal and public identity being based on her status as a member of the Cherokee nation, Smith was not registered with the tribe.
Smith was quickly hired by UC-Riverside, but questions about her parentage didn’t subside.
In 2015, amid the scandal surrounding racefaker Rachel Dolezal, Smith came under fire.
Prominent Cherokee genealogist David Cornsilk said he had researched Smith’s lineage years earlier, after she approached him to discuss her genetic background.
Crucially, Cornsilk said he had discovered no connection between Smith and the Cherokee nation.
Smith’s dissertation advisor, famed radical activist, Marxist, and academic Angela Davis called her former student “one of the greatest indigenous feminist intellectuals of our time”
Cornsilk wrote in an op-ed at the time, “Wannabes like Andrea use the myths of Cherokees hiding in the hills, passing as white, or being rescued by righteous whites, to perpetuate their lies.”
‘On two separate occasions in the 1990s, Andrea Smith visited me as a Cherokee genealogist to see if she had any connections,” he continued.
“My research into Smith’s ancestry revealed that her ancestry was not connected to the Cherokee people.
In the years that followed, many have questioned her identity, including representatives of the Cherokee Nation.
“In subsequent years she has had ample opportunity to come forward with evidence for her Cherokee claims.”
But she didn’t.
Cornsilk hypothesized that Smith could reverse her public claims of Cherokee blood, but would not admit to her complete cheating, given that much of her career was predicated on her being a woman of color.
Smith’s work focuses primarily on violence against women of color, especially Native American women.
Perhaps ironically, she has a history of taking relatively hostile stances against white feminists for “choosing” to become Native American.
Over the years, several of Smith’s relatives have come out of the woodwork to say there is no Native American blood in their family tree.
A relative on her father’s side said of her claims, “Yes, we heard about that and we just shook our heads.”
The relative confirmed that her father Donald was not Ojibwe (another tribe Smith claimed to be related to); instead he is a white male with British ancestry.
A relative on her mother Helen’s side, Margaret Jane Wilkinson, said Helen never identified as Native American — until she did.
Yet another relative, Cousin Barbara Smith, rejected the idea that it was one’s grandfather who was Native American, adding, “We’re mostly Scandinavian.”
UC-Riverside has stuck to its choice of ownership all these years.
Until recently, her employer—the UC-Riverside—appeared to ignore the issue, defending their tenured professor as an academic of “high merit.”
Smith will reportedly be allowed to keep her current position through August 2024. Until then, she will be allowed to teach, and her legal fees will be paid and the benefits will remain intact after she leaves.
When she came under fire in 2015, the school called her a “teacher and researcher of great merit,” regardless of how her peers may have felt about it.
By 2015, her scandal had grown to such an extent that Smith decided to make a formal statement:
To the academic and social justice organizing communities of which I have been a part for many years, and to whom I am indebted:
“I have always been Cherokee and always will be Cherokee. I have consistently identified myself based on what I knew to be true. My enrollment status does not affect my Cherokee identity or my continued commitment to bringing justice to Indigenous communities.
“There have been countless false statements about me in the media. But what is ultimately most concerning is that these social media attacks send a chilling message to all Indigenous peoples who are unregistered or otherwise marginalized that they should not publicly advocate justice for Indigenous peoples for fear that they too would do that. day be attacked.
“I hope more indigenous peoples will heed the call to work for social justice, without fear of being subjected to violent identity checks. I also hope that the field of Indigenous studies will address disagreements and disagreements in a way that respects the dignity of all persons, rather than through abusive social media campaigns.
Out of respect for my family’s dignity and privacy, and out of concern for the harm these attacks have had on my students, colleagues and organizing communities, I will refocus my energies on the work of social justice.”
The vague explanation that obscures the fundamental issue is how Smith has chosen to handle the controversy throughout her career.
Now she may be relinquishing some three decades of alleged lies with her full benefits and an honorary title.