Ruth Padel, the first female Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford, has resigned after holding the post for only a week.
The resignation follows the damaging relevation that she had sent e-mails to two national newspapers, associating her with a smear campaign against Derek Walcott, a Nobel laureate and her main rival in the race. In the e-mails, Padel mentions allegations of sexual harassment in Walcott’s history.
The discovery of these e-mails has led many to suspect Padel’s involvement with the campaign. Many academics who initially supported Padel called for her to step down. Lord Bragg, a Labour peer described her behaviour as “disgraceful.”
“She should now stand down from the post,” he added. “A shame, but there it is.”
Padel had maintained, in the past, that she played no part in the smear campaign.
“It’s terrible, because it had nothing to do with me,” she said in an earlier interview with Cherwell.
In an official statement released on Monday, however, Padel acknowledged that she had sent the e-mails. She denied engaging in the smear campaign, as she had only passed on 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, “but I can see that people might interpret my actions otherwise.”
The e-mails to two journalists were sent in early April, and made references to events in Walcott’s past. Padel wrote in them, “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.”
Shortly after, John Walsh, a close friend of Padel, detailed and criticised Walcott’s alleged behaviour in an article in The Independent. Within the next few days, between 50 and 100 academics were sent anonymous letters containing an excerpt from the book The Lecherous Professor.
As the campaign escalated, Derek Walcott pulled out from the race. He cited “low tactics” and “low and degrading attempt at character assassination” as the reason for his withdrawal.
Ruth Padel defended the e-mails sent to journalists. She said, “I was contacted by an Oxford student, who believed Mr Walcott’s relations with female students at universities was relevant to her university’s election of a professor.
“Because her concern seemed to be a part of the whole picture, I communicated it to two journalists. I would not have done so had I known of the anonymous mailing, or of any journalist intending to highlight this issue on its own.”
Eloise Stonborough, the secretary of the Oxford University Poetry Society, was glad that Oxford will have another chance to elect a person for the post. She said, “I am sorry that the election came to this but given the circumstances I believe that Ruth Padel has taken the honourable course of action in resigning. I am glad that we now have an opportunity to learn from the mistakes made during this campaign and to conduct the new election in a manner fitting to the important position of the professor of poetry.
“I look forward to finding out more about the potential future candidates for the post”, she added.
The University has said that a new election for the position will be held.