President and Provost celebrate Hill’s University Professor title
Prof. Anita Hill (Heller) was appointed a Brandeis University Professor — the highest honor a professor can receive from the University — on March 26. On Thursday, Sept. 24, the Offices of the President and Provost hosted an event to honor Hill’s appointment as a University Professor.
Interim University President Lisa Lynch was the first to speak, briefly explaining the significance of the title “University Professor.” She emphasized that “this is an appointment that does not happen very often at the University.” According to the University’s website, there are currently only two University Professors at Brandeis — Hill and Prof. David Hackett Fisher (HIST). Lynch added that the title is “conferred on someone who has achieved exceptional scholarly or academic achievement, ... whose achievements transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries … [and] whose appointment will enhance the reputation and prestige of the University.”
Following Lynch’s speech, Hill was formally introduced by Interim Provost Irving Epstein. Epstein spoke of how Hill originally came to Brandeis as a visiting professor 17 years ago, describing her as “bring[ing] to her work a powerful, eloquent voice that commands our attention and engages both the heart and the mind” and possessing “the poise, the grace and the courage to say what must be said to whomever must hear it.” Epstein welcomed Hill on stage by stating that, “at a university named after Louis Brandeis, no one could be more worthy of the title of University Professor than Anita Hill.”
Hill began her lecture by thanking her colleagues and recognizing how significant her time at Brandeis has been in enhancing her scholarship. She then turned her attention to the topic of her lecture: inclusive communities. Hill spoke of how, “as a lawyer, [she] wait[s] for the last month of the Supreme Court’s term, … every year waiting [for] something that will help speak to the issues that [she] work[s] on; racism, sexism, homophobia and biases of all kind.” While she waits, she said, she asks herself: “will this year’s opinion bring us together or will it exacerbate the disparities that we know exist?” Hill asserted that this year “the Supreme Court did not disappoint,” citing the court’s legalization of same sex marriage.
The main focus of Hill’s lecture was a Supreme Court decision Hill called “an incredible victory which moves us forward as a nation,” and yet she acknowledged it is one that most people have not heard of. The case she named, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., centered on low-income house credits and affordable housing.
Hill explained how departments of housing allocate tax credits to builders who wish to build low-income affordable housing. However, in Texas, the Department of Housing distributed far more of these tax credits to builders constructing in inner-city, predominantly black neighborhoods than to those building in suburban areas. This meant that fewer affordable homes were available in suburban areas. According to Hill, the Inclusive Communities Project argued that this distribution of tax credits “promot[ed] segregation” and was discriminatory, but the Department disagreed, claiming that “discrimination must be proven through a show of intent to discriminate” and that since their policy was not motivated by “racism, sexism etc.,” even if the effects of the policy were discriminatory, the policy itself was not.
Hill argued in her speech that the Texas Department of Housing’s case followed traditional law, which requires proof of intent and prejudicial motivation. Yet despite this lack of solid proof, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 in favor of The Inclusive Communities Project. Hill praised this ruling as “open[ing] the door for addressing institutional bias and implicit prejudice.” She further claimed that in this ruling, “the Court invites rights advocates to pursue inclusive communities as a value in our work places, academic places … and cities.”
Additionally, Hill stated that universities, such as Brandeis, play a very important “dual role” in promoting inclusive communities. She described these roles as “first to model inclusion and second to inform and better understand how bias is imbedded in … rules and culture, even unconsciously.” Hill said that her role as a professor was “to encourage critical and analytical questioning that challenges assumptions underlying polices that disproportionally harm those that have been historically oppressed.” She concluded her speech by explaining how she was “so pleased to have committed [her] entire career to the academy” and noting that at the University, she has the opportunity to move toward inclusive communities as she “lives [the] motto ‘Truth even unto its innermost parts.’”
A short question-and-answer session followed Hill’s speech. During the session, Hill was asked to further reflect upon “intent” in discrimination law, which she said she views as a problem in law and society.
She told the audience that she believes that “intent” focuses on one “evil” person when “in fact, … all the people who are committing act of bigotry and discrimination are not even bad people; they are just people who haven’t even really thought about what they are doing.” Hill also argued that “intent” creates a tension in the way society thinks – and talks – about biases and yet does nothing to solve them.