Ruth Padel has resigned as the Oxford Professor of Poetry, the Guardian reports. Although details are currently scarce, it seems very likely she withdrew after it emerged that she privately alerted journalists to the (proven) allegations of sexual harassment against her former rival, Derek Walcott. Walcott withdrew from the race before the election, leading to Padel’s election.
This does not mean Padel was involved in the anonymous packages sent to male and female members of the English Faculty at Oxford, alerting them to Walcott’s past.
Padel was elected on 21 May 2009, claiming the Walcott situation was “nothing to do with” her. However, yesterday on 24 May, the Guardian reported that, despite claiming that “neither [my campaign managers] nor I mentioned Walcott’s harassment record and had nothing to do with any behind-doors operation”, she was emailing journalists as early as April to tip them off; Padel admitted to these emails, in yet another email, this time to the Guardian. The original news of the smear emails broke in the Sunday Times; as a result of these and other reports, Padel lost the support of prominent supporters including Lord Bragg and Sir Jeremy Isaacs. The language of the emails is, at best, highly disingenuous:
“Some [of my] supporters add that what he does for students can be found in a book called The Lecherous Professor, reporting one of his two recorded cases of sexual harassment and that Obama is rumoured to have turned him down for his inauguration poem because of the sexual record. But I don’t think that’s fair.”
Padel then helpfully directs her correspondents to the internet, where they can find out more.
The Oxford University Poetry Society is bound to be pleased; Secretary Eloise Stonborough, after all, organised the open letter which went to the Times, calling for Padel’s withdrawal and the reopening of nominations. And, in fact, as I look over facebook, there’s quite a bit of celebration (inc references to the ‘sinister teddy hall cabal’)… not to mention speculation about the new candidates. Tony Harrison‘s my man.
I would have really loved to have supported Padel – and plenty of people I respect did choose to do so. I would, all things being equal, definitely have preferred a woman to win. Talking to female academics convinced me that supporting Walcott wasn’t an unfeminist move, and I did, in any case, prefer his poetry (I would never have endorsed him for a teaching position). I thought before the election that Padel should have withdrawn; I now feel I wasted my sympathy on her, since she emailed journalists and then lied about it. I’m not sorry she’s gone.
Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.