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The chair of Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxfordmarker is an unusual academic appointment, now held for a term of five years, and chosen through an election open to all "members of Convocation" (loosely, all former students of Oxford University who received a degree other than an honorary degree, plus all members of the University 'Congregation', which includes most of the university's academic staff as well as some senior non-academic staff). It carries an obligation to lecture, but is in effect a part-time position. As of 2009, it carries a stipend of £6901 (£4,695 as of 2005) plus £40 in travel expenses for each Creweian Oration.

The Professor of Poetry delivers three lectures each year. Also, every second year (alternating with the University Orator), the Professor of Poetry delivers the Creweian Oration, which offers formal thanks to benefactors of the University. Until 1968 this oration was delivered in Latin. The chair was endowed in 1708 following a bequest by Henry Birkhead.

Recent elections

The elections typically attract media attention, and involve campaigning by proponents of quite diverse candidates (who are not subject to any restriction — anyone may stand). In practice both poets and academics have been chosen. Ruth Padel was the first female elected in May 2009, amidst a controversy which had Derek Walcott withdraw over allegations of sexual abuse of his former students.

Walcott-Padel controversy

On 16 May 2009, Padel was elected, controversially, Professor of Poetry at Oxford Universitymarker, after the leading candidate, Derek Walcott, withdrew his candidacy following a smear campaign in which over one hundred professors at the university were sent anonymous letters and details of a sexual assault allegation laid against Walcott in 1982. She became the first female elected to the post since its inception in 1708, and was to succeed Christopher Ricks. She defeated Arvind Mehrotra, a poet from Indiamarker, and Walcott. The allegations against Walcott came from anonymous letters and photocopied pages from The Lecherous Professor, a book containing details of a sexual assault allegation laid against him whilst he was teaching at Boston Universitymarker and Harvard Universitymarker in 1982.

The story was published in the Cherwell newspaper on the weekend prior to Padel's appointment. Walcott, who had previously been the favourite to win the position, removed himself from the race on 12 May, stating:
I am disappointed that such low tactics have been used and I do not want to get into a race for a post where it causes embarrassment to those who have chosen to support me or to myself.
While I was happy to be put forward for the post, if it has degenerated into a low and degrading attempt at character assassination, I do not want to be part of it.
Padel said her victory had been "poisoned by the cowardly acts" of the campaign against her rival but denied any involvement, stating that such allegations were "ridiculous". . It was later reported that Padel had twice sent emails to newspapers, highlighting Walcott's past, earlier in 2009 and before the anonymous letters were distributed. On 25 May 2009 it was reported that, following calls for her to step down, Ruth Padel had resigned from her post.

Since the election was for a post beginning at on the first day of Michaelmas Term 2009 (in September), Ruth Padel has not actually held the title. The campaign against Walcott was roundly criticized by a number of respected poets in a letter of support addressed to Walcott and published in the Times Literary Supplement

Holders of the position



References

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