Page last updated at 15:09 GMT, Tuesday, 26 May 2009 16:09 UK

Oxford poet 'sorry' over vote row

Ruth Padel apologises over the row. Clip courtesy of Sky Arts

The first woman to become the Oxford Professor of Poetry has apologised for her role in the alleged smear campaign which led her to resign.

Ruth Padel apologised "for anything I have done which can be misconstrued" against fellow contender Derek Walcott.

She insisted she had done "nothing intentional" to lead Walcott to withdraw despite briefing journalists.

Walcott, 79, withdrew following an anonymous letter campaign reportedly detailing sexual harassment claims.

The Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott said that he has no comment to make about Padel's resignation and said he is not going to stand in the next election for the Oxford Professor of Poetry.

Padel, speaking at the Hay Festival of Literature, in Powys, said she revered Walcott's work and described him as "my senior colleague".

"When he pulled out I felt scooped out inside, I don't want other poets to be humiliated. I have apologised to the university," she said.


She added that she hoped the next Professor of Poetry would be a woman.

An Oxford University spokeswoman said they "respected" Padel's decision.

"This has been a difficult chapter for all concerned and a period of reflection may now be in order," she said.

Walcott pulled out of the contest after Oxford academics received more than 100 anonymous letters reportedly detailing an allegation of sexual harassment made against him in 1982.

He described it as a "low and degrading" campaign.

Padel said: "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."

It's deeply, deeply disappointing that things worked out this way
Prof AC Grayling
Birkbeck College

She added: "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.

"I wish to do what is best for the university and I understand that opinion there is divided. I therefore resign from the Chair of Poetry. I hope wounds will now heal and I wish the next professor all the best."

'Scurrilous campaign'

Padel was elected with 297 votes cast by Oxford graduates and academic staff, making her the first woman to take up the role since its creation in 1708.

One of those who had nominated her, AC Grayling, the Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, told BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight she was right to step down.

"It would have been really marvellous actually to have a women professor of poetry at Oxford, had it been a straightforward, clean fight.

"So it's deeply, deeply disappointing that things worked out this way and that this kind of scurrilous...campaign was run against Derek Walcott."


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