Ruth Padel, the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, made history at Oxford when she became the first woman to be elected to the position of Professor of Poetry since the job was created in 1708.
But Padel’s election was marred by Nobel literature laureate Derek Walcott’s decision to withdraw as a candidate from the election after anonymous letters attacking him were sent to Oxford academics.
British newspapers reported that the letters made reference to an allegation of sexual harassment made against the St. Lucia-born poet by a former student in the 1980s.
The papers said the letters included references from the book ”The Lecherous Professor: Sexual Harassment on Campus,” by Billie Wright Dziech and Linda Weiner, which carries allegations against Walcott made by a Harvard freshman in 1981. At the time of his resignation, Walcott said he had never commented on the claims and would not do so now. But he called the anonymous letter campaign an attempt at character assassination.
Padel came under increasing pressure after The Sunday Times quoted e-mails it said she had sent to two unidentified journalists drawing their attention to the book. In a statement announcing her resignation, Padel acknowledged sending the e-mails. But she said she did not engage in a smear campaign, explaining that she had only passed on information already in the public domain.
”I acted in complete good faith, and would have been happy to lose to Derek, but I can see that people might interpret my actions otherwise,” she said in the statement.
Oh, they might?