Ruth Padel, the poet chosen ten days ago to become the first female professor of poetry at Oxford University, resigned yesterday after admitting she alerted newspaper reporters to sexual harassment allegations against poet Derek Walcott, who subsequently dropped out of the race for the post. Walcott announced on May 12 that he had withdrawn his bid to become Oxford's poetry professor after an anonymous letter campaign alerted Oxford academics of sexual harassment allegations brought against him in 1982.
Padel, a great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, admitted yesterday that in April she sent e-mail messages to two reporters pointing out the harassment allegations. During her campaign for the post, she immediately condemned similar, anonymous smear tactics when they came to light. The Telegraph reported today that Padel denies taking part in the anonymous compaign, in which a hundred Oxford faculty members received packages containing pages from a book detailing harassment charges made by a Harvard poetry student. In the signed e-mails she sent to the reporters, however, Padel took a similar approach.
The Evening Standard, a newspaper in London, today released an e-mail Padel sent to reporter Olivia Cole on April 9. "There is auppposed [sic] to be a book called The Lecherous Professor, which has 6 pages on Derek Walcott's two cases of sexual harassment, which might provide interestigfn [sic] copy on what Oxford wants from its professors," she wrote.
In a statement released yesterday, Padel said she acted out of concern for female students, alerting reporters only to information that was already in the public domain. "I acted in complete good faith and would have been happy to lose to Derek," she said. Padel acknowledged that the e-mails were "naive and silly," but refused to say she was wrong for having sent them. She added that, in hindsight, it would have been a better idea to bring her concerns directly to university officials.
The third nominee for the post, which draws an annual salary of around eleven thousand dollars, is Arvind Mehrotra, who received 129 votes cast by Oxford graduates and academic staff. Padel received 297.