Derek Walcott Drops Out of Race for Oxford Professorship

by Staff

Poet Derek Walcott announced on Tuesday that he has withdrawn his bid to become the next professor of poetry at Oxford University. His decision follows an anonymous letter campaign that alerted Oxford academics of sexual harassment allegations brought against Walcott in 1982.

Earlier this month, an estimated one hundred Oxford faculty members received packages from an unnamed sender containing pages from a book detailing harassment charges made by a Harvard poetry student. The student is said to have received a "C" grade in Walcott’s class after resisting his advances, allegations that were authenticated by the university, which changed the student’s grade to "Pass" and reprimanded Walcott. The poet has never made a statement illuminating his side of the situation, and, Walcott told the Evening Standard, "That will continue to be the case."

"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," said Walcott, whose nominators included Robert Conquest, Alan Hollinghurst, Hermione Lee, and Marina Warner. "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."

The remaining candidates for professorship are Ruth Padel of Great Britain and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra of India. An electorate comprised of Oxford faculty and graduates of the university will vote on Saturday.


An Oxford circus

This whole charade is a deeply sad commentary on the state of poetry in the world today. I studied with Derek Walcott as a graduate student in poetry more than a decade ago and continue to regard him as one of our few remaining great poets (unlike the many deficient but highly praised poets teaching in universities these days). Oxford and its community would have been *blessed* to have him in this post. If people can't see masters for who they are and what they can teach us, they shouldn't bother calling themselves poets or educators.