Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Professor of Poetry

Who would have thought that a title called “Professor of Poetry” can be such a cut throat, nasty and scandalous affair? 2 weeks ago when Ruth Padel was named Oxford University's Professor of Poetry, I couldn’t care less about it. But whoa, what a juicy little scandal it has become.

It turn out that Padel, Charles Darwin's great-great-granddaughter, only got the post after the front-runner Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, withdrew his candidacy four days before the poll. Walcott withdrew after a 1982 allegation that he had sexually harassed a student at Harvard reappeared in the British media. Several anonymous letters were then sent to Oxford’s senior staff and graduates, all of whom are eligible to vote for the professorship. Walcott then withdrew his candidacy citing "a degrading attempt at character assassination."

Ruth Padel then became the first woman to win the post since its creation in 1708. That’s over 300 years! Of course questions were asked about who sent the letters to Oxford and how the British press got wind of the sexual harassment allegation. Padel denied any involvement in the poison-pen letters, but tendered her resignation after admitting she had passed on the sexual harassment allegation to two journalists (which were probably how it first got into the British press).

Now a little character assassination is pretty normal in any office in any part of the world, but I have to laugh when I heard the excuses that were offer in defense of Padel. Padel said that she was naive to pass on the info to two journalists as she thought it would not be a big deal as the information was already in the public domain. (Yes, I’m sure the fact that she was in an election with the guy had nothing to do with it) Her supporters said that what she has done is trivial when compared to her contribution to poetry and that this wouldn't have happened to a man. (Yes, I’m sure that spreading rumors about your fellow competitor is a trivial matter and that if a man had spoke to two journalists about it, everyone will think there’s nothing wrong with it) Novelist Jeannette Winterson even called Oxford a sexist little dump for the matter. (Yes, I’m sure Oxford should reward character assassination with a professorship post. That makes so much more sense)

If all the elections of Oxford’s Professorship posts are like this, I must definitely pay more attention to the next one.

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