Monday, November 21, 2011

Anita Hill

I was disappointed by Mr. Cain’s reaction to an apparent joke by one of his supporters about Anita Hill’s supposed  interest in his campaign.  In the context of the growing evidence of sexual harassment, Mr. Cain thought the mere mention of Professor Hill’s name was very funny.  He laughed heartily and joked about whether she would be endorsing his campaign.

Anita Hill is a talented lawyer and scholar.  She has impressive credentials and noteworthy professional achievements.  However, the public simply remembers her for one thing: her testimony at the Senate hearings on Clarence Thomas’s 1991 nomination for a seat on the Supreme Court.  Despite everything she has achieved in her life, that is all people associate with her.  Her name has become forever linked with tawdry sexual references due to the testimony she gave repeating things she indicated Clarence Thomas had said to her. As evidenced by the interplay between Mr. Cain and his campaign supporter, the name “Anita Hill” has become a joke about women who dare allege sexual misconduct of high profile men.

As if it hadn’t been bad enough to endure grueling hours of testimony before a panel of uncomfortable male senators and a huge televised audience, after Clarence Thomas was confirmed and assumed a seat on the Supreme Court, Anita Hill continued to be vilified in the media and in the square of public opinion.  A high-profile book called The Real Anita Hill attacked her character and motivations.  It became a best-seller, though the author, David Brock, later recanted and apologized to Professor Hill. 

Throughout her testimony and notoriety, I have always thought Professor Hill was remarkably calm and poised.  I read somewhere recently a characterization that she was very “regal” in her comportment.  I agree. I think that is an apt description. 

I’ve always wondered where Professor Hill has gathered the strength to bring forward her insights on Clarence Thomas and to weather so stoically the never-ending ridicule that has cruelly attached to her name.  She has never married.  As far as I know, she has no life partner on whom to lean during tough times. 

I have a hunch.  I might be totally off base, but I suspect that Professor Hill is a Christian and her faith has been the source of her strength through the years of scrutiny and public attack.

I did a little research on Anita Hill recently and several facts led me to this suspicion.  She was raised in Oklahoma in the Baptist faith.  She was the youngest of 13 children in a very religious family.  She has apparently continued to be very close to her family throughout her life.  After she left an impressive career practicing law in Washington, D.C., she began the teaching phase of her legal career in Oklahoma to be close to her family.  She started teaching at the Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University.  She taught there from 1983-1986.  Because of her family, she opted to not leave Oklahoma when Coburn closed and re-opened in Virginia under affiliation with a different school.

It is fascinating to me that Professor Hill taught at Coburn.  ORU is a conservative, interdenominational Christian university.  Its namesake is the former televangelist whose ministry has been plagued by scandal.  Kathy Lee Gifford and Joel Osteen are among those who have attended ORU. 

ORU’s law school opened in 1979, but was mired in financial difficulties.  In 1986, it closed and became part of what is now Regent University (founded by televangelist Pat Roberts).  Representative Michele Bachmann graduated in the last class of the Coburn School of Law.  (I wonder if she studied under Professor Hill!)

When Coburn closed in 1986, only five of the professors moved to Virginia to join the reconstituted school’s faculty.  Anita Hill reportedly wanted to stay in Oklahoma to be near her family and was offered a position at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. 

I do not know for a fact that Anita Hill is a Christian, but it seems a reasonable inference.  She was raised in the faith.  She began her law teaching career at a conservative Christian law school.  As a faculty member of Coburn, Hill took an oath that said in part: "I will not lie, I will not steal, I will not curse, I will not be a talebearer.” See

When I myself was interested in transitioning from practice to teaching, I had occasion to interview with Regent University School of Law, which was Coburn’s successor.  I enjoyed my interview very much.  The professor in charge of hiring that year asked me about my faith journey and we had a terrific conversation.  During the interview, he also explained to me that at Regent it was important for faculty to be committed to scholarship that integrated Christian beliefs. 

I think it would have been fun to teach at Regent.  One aspect of the school that I liked is that each class meeting begins with a few minutes of prayer or Bible study.  The professor is responsible for leading the class in a prayer or reflection on some religious text, ideally one that is relevant to the legal topic of the class at hand.  There are also opportunities for the school community to come together in worship. 

I would have really enjoyed integrating my faith into my professional life at a school like Regent, but God had other plans and I have enjoyed teaching at PSL.  Ultimately, it was not a good fit for me at Regent.  They already had a tax professor and didn’t need anyone else to teach in my area of expertise.  Additionally, my research agenda at that time was grounded in secular tax topics.  Frankly, I didn’t think I could effectively integrate my faith into my scholarship.  My scholarship primarily focuses on secular topics that I learned about during my corporate tax practice.

I have never had direct interaction with Coburn; I was in high school when it closed. And it is hard to find much information on the school now.  But I would imagine they would have had an approach to faculty hiring very similar to Regent’s.  I cannot imagine Coburn would have hired a law professor without a strong profession of Christian belief.  The school was founded to integrate faith and learning.  It would have been contrary to that vision to hire someone who was not a mature Christ follower.

In light of these inferences, I suspect that Professor Hill’s quiet confidence and strength may have come from her faith.  Again, I don’t know that for sure, but it seems a reasonable inference based on known facts.  I find it interesting that I’ve never heard anything about this in the secular or religious media. 

Indeed, I find it a fascinating omission that I had never even heard mention that she taught at Coburn.  Professor Hill has been branded a liberal who had been sent in to derail conservative Thomas’s chances of being confirmed.  I doubt she could have been too much of a communist if ORU hired her and kept her employed for several years until its demise.

Philippians 4:13 (New King James Version)

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

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