Oxford Professor of Poetry Candidacy
In 2009, Walcott was a leading candidate for the position of Oxford Professor of Poetry. He withdrew his candidacy after reports of documented accusations against him of sexual harassment from 1981 and 1996. (The latter case was settled by Boston University out of court.) When the media learned that pages from an American book on the topic were sent anonymously to a number of Oxford academics, its interest was further aroused in the university decisions.
Ruth Padel, also a chief candidate, was elected to the post. Within days, The Telegraph reported that she had alerted journalists to the harassment cases. Under severe media and academic pressure, Padel resigned. Padel was the first woman to be elected to the Oxford post, and journalists including Libby Purves, Yasmin Alibhai Brown, the American Macy Halford and the Canadian Suzanne Gardner attributed the criticism of her to misogyny and a gender war at Oxford. They said that a male poet would not have been so criticized, as she had reported published information, not rumor.
Numerous respected poets, including Seamus Heaney and Al Alvarez, published a letter of support for Walcott in the Times Literary Supplement, and criticized the press furore. Other commentators suggested that both poets were casualties of the media interest in an internal university affair, because the story "had everything, from sex claims to allegations of character assassination". Simon Armitage and other poets expressed regret at Padel's resignation.
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