Oxford's newly appointed professor of poetry, Ruth Padel, is facing demands for her resignation after it emerged she tipped off journalists about allegations of sexual harassment against her main rival.
Padel had maintained she had "nothing to do with any behind-doors operation" against Derek Walcott, who withdrew from the race for election to the 300-year-old post after the allegations appeared in the press.
But she had in fact sent emails to at least two newspapers, The Sunday Times claimed, causing one-time backers, including the arts broadcaster and Labour peer Lord Bragg, and Channel 4's chief executive, Sir Jeremy Isaacs, to call for her to step down.
Padel's email said: "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 [Barack] 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. The harassment is all documented on the web."
Days after the emails were sent, an article concerning Walcott's history appeared in The Independent and was followed up by other newspapers. Relevant pages from The Lecherous Professor were sent anonymously to voters in Oxford. Walcott withdrew from the election, citing a "low and degrading attempt at character assassination."
Walcott, 79, had been forced to apologise after a claim of sexual harassment against him in the early 1980s when he was at Harvard. Another claim, in the mid-1990s when he was at Boston University, was settled out of court.
The election for the post was already controversial, with a Padel supporter accusing her opponents of a "streak of misogyny", while the Walcott camp talked of a "vicious literary London coterie" surrounding Padel.
Lord Bragg, a former student of Wadham College, Oxford, told The Sunday Times: "Even her mentioning Walcott's past in advance of the election was disgraceful. She should now stand down."
Philosopher A C Grayling, a professor at Birkbeck, University of London, said: "I'm shockingly disappointed that she tipped off people about Walcott's past."
Padel herself said she knew nothing of the anonymous mailings but regretted tipping off journalists. "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."Reuse content