The XX Factor

Did Anita Hill Teach Michele Bachmann’s Law Class?

Michele Bachmann and Anita Hill overlapped at the same law school, the former as student, the latter as instructor

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A New York Times piece on Michele Bachmann’s time at the now-defunct O.W. Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University raises an interesting possibility: Anita Hill may have been one of Bachmann’s law professors. This strange juxtaposition has been previously mentioned in a handful of other stories but, as far as I can tell, never sourced to anything solid. Bachmann and Hill haven’t confirmed this fascinating tidbit (ahem, someone should ask Hill now that she’s on book tour); instead, the revelation comes from Bachmann’s son Lucas, who told the Times he “believed that Ms. Hill had been one of his mother’s professors.”

O.W. Coburn was an unusual law school, one that emphasized the Biblical origins of the law in a deeply conservative context. It was founded in 1979 as part of a university that placed a “particular emphasis” on speaking in tongues, and law school students had to dress modestly, attend chapel twice a week, and sign a pledge to follow Jesus Christ. According to the Times story, it was at Coburn that Bachmann was exposed to notions now prevalent among Constitutional conservatives, including the idea that the separation of church and state is – as Bachmann herself has put it – a “myth.” There is also the idea that “the Constitution is akin to a biblical covenant, binding on future generations” as the Times puts it.

Bachmann’s time at Coburn from 1979 to 1986 (she took time off when she and Marcus were starting a family) precisely tracks the short lifespan of the school, which was utlimately folded into what is now Regent University. Toward the end of Coburn’s existence, the school brought in Hill in the wake of concerns that the faculty was largely made up of white men. In the 1998 book Speaking Truth to Power, Hill writes that took the job at Coburn in the early ‘80s in great part to get away from the sexual harassment of her boss, future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

In her book, Hill describes Coburn law school as a small, conservative, and sometimes difficult environment, where certain students questioned her credentials and resented her authority, presumably because of her race and gender. She also says the school accepted some “marginal” students. She does not mention Bachmann. But how amazing to consider that the woman who inspired feminists by testifying about sexual harassment at Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation may have once taught the presidential candidate who has spoken about the importance of wives being “submissive” to their husbands.