Oxford poets scandal
Oxford poets scandal: three words that don’t often come together, but there you have it, ladies and gents. The latest shocker from the world of wordsmiths concerns the recently appointed Oxford Professor of Poetry, Ruth Padel (Charles Darwin’s great-great-granddaughter, interviewed here by Arminta Wallace), who has resigned the position after only nine days on the job.
Padel, whose appointment made her the first woman to hold the professorship in the 300 years of its existence, was a shoo-in after her main rival for the post, Caribbean poet Derek Walcott, withdrew from the race following an anonymous letter campaign. The letters, sent to Oxford academics, reportdly detailed a sexual harrassment allegation made against Walcott while he taught at Harvard in the 1980s. Walcott responded by pulling out of the race: “I already have a great many work commitments and, while I was happy to be put forward for the post, if it has degenerated into a low and degrading attempt at character assassination, I do not want to be part of it.”
At the time, Padel said her team had “bent over backwards to run a clean campaign”. It has since emerged that Padel was behind emails alerting two journalists to the claims against Walcott. “As a result of student concern, I naively – and with hindsight unwisely – passed on to two journalists, whom I believed to be covering the whole election responsibly, information that was already in the public domain,” explained Padel. And then she got the job. But now she’s chucked it in and the tawdry affair drags on. It’s been some time since academia came off so – well, eventful.
So, was Padel right to make sure the anonymous dossier made it into the public domain? Would a Walcott appiontment have given the impression that Oxford was “soft” on sexual harrassment? Should he have resigned? Should she? Who’s next in line for the clearly uncomfortable Chair?