E-mails show that Ruth Padel was implicated in smear campaign against Walcott

walcott

The British press is calling for Ruth Padel to step down from the Oxford Professor of Poetry post to which she was elected just a week ago after an article by the Telegraph unveiled details of the e-mails she sent journalists detailing the allegations of sexual harassment against her main opponent, Derek Walcott. In emails sent to a number of reporters, Padel pointed out his advanced age (Walcott is 79), claimed that he had suffered poor health, and stressed that he lived in the Caribbean. She then went on to allege that what he “actually” did for students could be found in six pages in a book called The Lecherous Professor. Padel then went on to inform journalists that the claims could be found on the internet and were widely known in the United States. The emails were sent just days before John Walsh, a close friend of Padel’s, highlighted the allegations against Walcott in a column on the Independent.  “Have Walcott’s fans all forgotten the shadows of sexual harassment allegations that have swirled around their man over the years?” wrote Walsh, who went on to detail the claims. Soon after Walsh’s column appeared, some 100 Oxford academics, mostly women, were sent an anonymous dossier detailing the allegations. The smear campaign led to Walcott’s withdrawal as a candidate, citing that he did not want to be the target of a “low attempt at character assassination.”

Padel does not deny alerting journalists to the accusations: “I passed on, in good faith, the concerns of a student who believed a professor’s relations with women students were relevant to her university’s appointment of a professor,” she said. “Far from wishing anonymity, she wanted her concerns to be heard. The details were in the public domain and were a source of genuine unease to her. I would not have mentioned her concerns if I had known of the anonymous mailing. Nothing I have done caused Derek Walcott to pull out of the election and I wish he had not.”

The unveiling of the e-mails has prompted many among her supporters to call for her stepping down. Last night A. C. Grayling, the philosopher who had backed Padel for the £6,901-a-year post, said he would make a formal complaint about her behavior to Oxford (a formal complaint is needed for the university to open an investigation). “The professorship is a very serious thing,” he said at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival. “This is dirty tricks and character assassination. I didn’t think Ruth would win against Walcott. When he withdrew, I thought it was absolutely wrong and there was no way that the Oxford professorship should be run on this business of sexual harassment; it should be run on the merits of the poetry.” Grayling added that “I’m shockingly disappointed that she tipped off people about Walcott’s past. Now all the issues should be examined by the authorities at Oxford. This is not all done and dusted simply because there has been a vote already.”

Two other former supporters of Padel, Lord Melvyn Bragg, the broadcaster, and Sir Jeremy Isaacs, the former chief executive of Channel 4, are also now calling on her to step down. Bragg said that “even her mentioning Walcott’s past in advance of the election was disgraceful. She should now stand down from the post. A shame, but there it is.” Clive James said that “the whole fracas has made Ruth Padel’s position unbearable. She would be wise to recuse herself and ask for the whole thing to begin again. Derek Walcott is unlikely to be a menace to young women at the age of 75, but he would have delivered an extremely good series of lectures.” 

Priyamvada Gopal, who teaches post-colonial studies at Cambridge University, said yesterday that the election had brought Oxford into disrepute. “Ruth Padel should do the honourable thing and step down,” she said. “There should also be a new election to find another professor of poetry. We now have proof that there was a concerted smear campaign against Derek Walcott led by a gender-based faction determined to have a woman in the post.”

Mary Kenny, writing for the Telegraph, compares Padel’s actions to Walcott’s alleged harassment: “Sexual harassment is a form of bad manners, but sending sneaky emails about your competitors is bad sportsmanship and petty priggishness. Could you trust such a professor to treat you fairly if you were her student? With a sexual harasser, you at least have the choice of manipulating his urges or slapping him soundly across the face.”

Since we posted this earlier today Ruth Padel announced her resignation from the post. For more see 

Ruth Padel Resigns from Oxford Professorship

There have been countless reports on Padel’s e-mails in the British press. Here are links to a few of them:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mandrake/5374220/How-Ruth-Padel-spread-sex-smears-against-Derek-Walcott.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/5381504/Is-nothing-sacred-Not-even-the-Oxford-professor-of-poetry.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/5378474/Ruth-Padel-under-pressure-to-resign-Oxford-post-over-emails-about-rival-poet-Derek-Walcott.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/may/24/ruth-padel

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/may/24/ruth-padel-derek-walcott-oxford-poetry

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