The good news is that Oxford elected Ruth Padel the Oxford Professor of Poetry, thus making her the first woman ever to hold the post.
The bad news is that she dished her rival for the post by alerting some journalists to his reputation for sexual harassment.
And the disgusting news (in a possibly UK use of ‘disgusting’) is what people are saying about the import of the allegations; e.g., Clive James’ remark:
“She would be wise to recuse herself and ask for the whole thing to begin again. Derek Walcott is unlikely to be a menace to young women at the age of 75, but he would have delivered an extremely good series of lectures.”
Among the allegations against Walcott:
The dossier [circulated in Oxford before the voting] included pages from a 1984 book, The Lecherous Professor: Sexual Harassment on Campus by Billie Wright Dziech and Linda Weiner, which details the sexual harassment claim made by a Harvard student against Walcott. The student claimed Walcott took her for an after-class coffee, saying to her: “I don’t want to talk about poetry,” and going on to proposition her.
The dossier also included a 1996 allegation by Nicole Niemi, a member of Walcott’s creative writing class at Boston University. Niemi sued Walcott for alleged sexual harassment and “offensive sexual physical contact”, demanding $500,000. They reportedly settled out of court.
What really is going on when we say that if one is getting too old to harass students, then past incidents are irrelevant to one’s holding such a prestigious appointment? And has James not heard of dirty old men?
It would, of course, be quite different if the charges of harassment were denied, but allowing them to be possibly right but no longer relevant is, well, something like disgusting. Or at least it invites the question of how one is thinking of sexual harassment. Allegations of child abuse don’t fade away when one is no longer in contact with children; stealing from friends remains a blot even if one is no longer nimble enough to cover one’s traces. Harassment, however, leaves one’s character in tact – at least if one forswears viagra?
Clearly, it’s late and I should quit with that last thought!
UPDATE: R. Padel has resigned the professorship. See comments 13 and 14 below for lnks.