Poet out of Oxford race after 'low' smear campaign


OXFORD – Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott has withdrawn from the race to become Oxford Professor of Poetry following a “low and degrading” campaign against him.

The 79-year-old was the front runner for the position, but pulled out after anonymous letters were sent to more than 100 Oxford professors.

The letters reportedly detailed an allegation of sexual harassment made against the St Lucia-born poet by a former student in 1982.

Walcott told London’s Evening Standard: “I withdraw from the election to be Professor of Poetry at Oxford.

“I am disappointed that such low tactics have been used in this election and I do not want to get into a race for a post where it causes embarrassment to those who have chosen to support me for the role, or to myself.”

The anonymous letters were said to have contained a photocopied page of the book The Lecherous Professor: Sexual Harassment On Campus, by Billie Wright Dziech and Linda Weiner, detailing the sexual allegations made against Walcott by a Harvard student.

The student alleged that while discussing her work with Walcott after class, he asked her to “imagine me making love to you. What would I do? . . . Would you make love with me if I asked you?” After rejecting his approaches, she was then given a C grade in his class.

Harvard reprimanded Walcott after reviewing the case, and required him to write an apology to the student; he said that his teaching style was “deliberately personal and intense”, and that he had “sensed no reluctance to pursue the topic of sexual relationships”.

His rival for the Oxford position, Ruth Padel, was described as being “visibly upset” by Walcott’s departure. She told the newspaper: “This is dreadful. My proposers are devastated because they have bent over backwards to run a clean campaign. On the one hand sexual harassment is horrible, but he is a very good poet and he has been humiliated.

She dismissed any suggestion that she or her supporters were behind the letters.

The next Professor of Poetry at Oxford will following in the footsteps of Matthew Arnold, WH Auden and Seamus Heaney. He or she will replace the scholar Christopher Ricks, who steps down from his five-year term of office at the end of September. – (PA, Guardian service )