Caribbean, UK: Padel resigns from Oxford post

After regional bloggers reacted en masse to the withdrawal of St. Lucian Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott from the race to be Oxford Professor of Poetry based on a smear campaign that targeted the writer's alleged past sexual impropriety, Ruth Padel, Walcott's closest competitor who eventually won the coveted post, has resigned under pressure of mounting allegations that she was the puppet master behind the smear campaign.

Caribbean bloggers do not seem surprised. Repeating Islands notes that articles by the Telegraph detail the part Padel played in what Walcott himself called a “low attempt at character assassination”:

In emails sent to a number of reporters, Padel pointed out his advanced age (Walcott is 79), claimed that he had suffered poor health, and stressed that he lived in the Caribbean. She then went on to allege that what he ‘actually’ did for students could be found in six pages in a book called The Lecherous Professor. Padel then went on to inform journalists that the claims could be found on the internet and were widely known in the United States. The emails were sent just days before John Walsh, a close friend of Padel’s, highlighted the allegations against Walcott in a column on the Independent. Padel does not deny alerting journalists to the accusations.

In another post, Repeating Islands republishes Padel's statements:

In announcing her resignation, Padel said that ‘as a result of student concern, I naively – and with hindsight unwisely – passed on to two journalists, whom I believed to be covering the whole election responsibly, information that was 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.’

Mainstream media are referring to Padel's stepping down as “poetic justice”, a concept which Living in Barbados is happy to comment on:

When I first read last week about Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott, withdrawing his nomination from an Oxford University professorship, I smelled a rat. Now, Prof. Ruth Padel, who won the professorship, against the weakened field, has confessed and resigned from the chair, stating ‘I acted in complete good faith and would have been happy to lose to Derek.’ Yea, right. But when she won she had said her victory was ‘poisoned by cowardly acts which I condemn and which I have nothing to do with…Those acts have done immense damage to people and to poetry.’ She certainly has a way with words, but truth doth elude her. We may have to see if that is not a lift from a literary work. In the end, she admits that she acted ‘naively’ and ‘unwisely’. But, she is still kicking the stone that I did nothing wrong and am gravely misunderstood.

Just reading a few of the reports about this episode would lead me to think that this might be some crazy, mixed up lady. Then I find that she is a great-great-grand-daughter of naturalist Charles Darwin; had a father who was a psychoanalyst; and did a doctoral thesis on Greek tragedy. She was once a journalist, too. Funny, how she did not put two and two together when she sent the e-mails. Or did she?

Repeating Islands also weighs in, noting that:

…she did admit sending two emails to journalists she was in contact with detailing information ‘that was already in the public domain’ regarding Mr. Walcott, acknowledging that sending the emails was ‘naive and silly’, but stopping short of saying that they were wrong.

Ms Padel, although slightly repentant, stopped short of any statement that would endorse Walcott’s candidacy in a new election.

She needn't worry. Walcott has already stated that “he would not stand for election again as he did not want to revisit ‘that awful business’.”


  • I am not sure if you meant to imply it or if I am reading too much into your sentence construction, but I am not convinced Padel’s resignation had anything to do with the outcry of Caribbean bloggers.

  • I don’t think that I should rejoice that she resignated, but still is sounds like justice to me!

  • Janine Mendes-Franco

    Sinistra: Padel’s action had absolutely nothing to do with the outcry of Caribbean bloggers, but they have certainly made their feelings about the smear campaign – and her subsequent resignation – known.

  • Indeed – would that bloggers had that degree of power to bring about change!

  • Janine Mendes-Franco

    So true – maybe someday soon, though!

  • Why was Ruth Padel forced to resign for bringing up the cases of sexual harassment and threats against female students committed by Derek Walcott? Why would Walcott be favored for the post when the cases against him were known and settled in the student’s favor? The students were subjected to “gag” orders which deprived them of their First Amendment rights of free speech as a condition for settling their cases – so they would never be able to speak of the crimes committed against them by Mr. Walcott.
    The sympathetic public reaction to the woman in China who stabbed a man who sexually harassed her and the unsympathetic reaction her harasser received is so starkly different from the reaction of sympathy and protectiveness given Professor Walcott, despite his well-known record for punishing students who refused his sexual advances. Yet, in England, just the mention of Walcott’s crimes brings swift condemnation and punishment to someone who brings them up.

    ( NYT 5/26/09 Ms. Padel’s admission that she sent e-mail messages to two reporters last month alerting them to allegations of sexual harassment against her main rival for the Oxford post, Derek Walcott. In a resignation statement released to the news media on Monday, Ms. Padel said that the information she had cited was already in the public domain. A book called ‘The Lecherous Professor,’ recorded one of his two reported cases of sexual harassment. In the book, the authors, Billie Wright Dziech and Linda Weiner, describe how Mr. Walcott was accused in 1982 of trying to seduce a student in his poetry class at Harvard, saying at one point: “Imagine me making love to you. What would I do?” According to the book, the student rebuffed the poet, and he gave her a C that was later changed to “pass” after the university reviewed the episode and reprimanded the poet.
    Shortly after Ms. Padel’s messages were sent, an article outlining the allegations appeared in The Independent, a newspaper with a strong following among literati in Britain; along with details of an allegation by a Boston University student, Nicole Niemi, who claimed in a lawsuit that Mr. Walcott demanded in 1996 that she sleep with him as the price of his helping produce a play she had written. The case was settled out of court. NYT)

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