The new professor of poetry at Oxford University, Ruth Padel, faces concerted pressure to resign after it emerged that she had emailed journalists alerting them to old allegations of sexual misconduct by her main rival.
In the run-up to the election earlier this month, Oxford dons were anonymously sent documents alleging sexual harassment by the St Lucia-born poet Derek Walcott, 79, during the 1980s. Leading academics are now calling on the university to hold another vote.
Padel and Walcott were the front-runners for the prestigious role and Walcott's supporters complained about a smear campaign against him.
At the time, Padel said she had "nothing to do with any behind-doors operations". But it has emerged that the Oxford classicist sent emails before the vote highlighting Walcott's past.
Priyamvada Gopal, who teaches post-colonial studies at Cambridge University, said yesterday that the election had brought Oxford into disrepute. "Ruth Padel should do the honourable thing and step down," she said. "There should also be a new election to find another professor of poetry. We now have proof that there was a concerted smear campaign against Derek Walcott led by a gender-based faction determined to have a woman in the post."
The broadcaster and Labour peer Lord Bragg, who had supported Padel, told The Sunday Times that she should resign: "Even her mentioning Walcott's past in advance of the election was disgraceful. She should now stand down from the post. A shame but there it is."
A letter circulating among staff and students at Oxford shows how many are uncomfortable that the vote even went ahead. "The professorship, which has been in existence for 300 years, has been and should always be elected purely on the basis of a candidate's suitability for the post, not their identity or morality," the letter reads. "The presence of personal attacks and politics in this campaign, regardless of their origin, sets a dangerous precedent for the next chair holder and may discourage future nominees from running in case they are judged, not by their talent, but by incidents from their distant past."
Ms Padel said she had simply been passing on the concerns of a student.