Oxford professors abused their position with sexist and drunken behavior | Investigation News

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Major UK universities do not deal effectively with complaints of sexual harassment, appearing more willing to dismiss them than punish the perpetrators, according to evidence gathered in a two-year investigation.

Investigation, Degrees of Abuse, conducted by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit) reveals how UK universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow and Warwick are handling complaints of sexual harassment, sexist behavior , drunkenness and coercive control.

Al Jazeera has identified two professors at the University of Oxford who, according to their fellow academics and students, abused their position of authority with sexist and drunken behavior.

He also revealed that the university, where the two teach, does not protect female students from sexual harassment.

“Personal reputation as a sexual predator”

One of the professors, Andy Orchard, teaches Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, ranked top of the world’s best universities for the sixth year in a row this year. One of his predecessors was JRR Tolkien, who held the same position when he wrote The Hobbit and much of The Lord of the Rings.

Orchard’s teaching career began with Oxford’s academic rival, the University of Cambridge. And that’s where two women, now both highly respected academics, met him in the 1990s.

“His academic reputation was high, his personal reputation was that of an alcoholic and a sexual predator,” explains Professor Catherine Karkov, professor of art history at the University of Leeds.

“He held meetings in the pub rather than in his office. He was therefore drunk several times for meetings.

Professor Ananya Kabir, now a professor of English literature at Kings College London, chose Cambridge for his doctorate precisely so that he could be supervised by Orchard, who had a brilliant reputation as a scholar of the medieval era.

She says her outlook on him completely changed after a graduate colleague confided in her that she was having sex with Orchard and that she was terrified of the consequences if she ended it.

“There was a primary fear. The repercussions were undetermined and therefore nightmarish. It is a totally unequal balance of power. Your doctorate is everyone, ”says Kabir.

This power dynamic was very apparent in the I-Unit survey of UK universities. There was a strained relationship between female graduate students and their male supervisors, guardians of future careers for women in academia.

Kabir and Karkov say they have raised concerns about Orchard’s affair and his drinking to senior academics, but Cambridge University has taken no action.


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In 2000, Orchard moved to Canada to take a more senior position at the University of Toronto.

Again, there were complaints against him. “He looked very drunk. He stuck me on a staircase, ”says Professor Alex Gillespie. “Then it sexualized, he said, ‘I’m going to shoot one last shot of testosterone through your bow’, that sounded like a threat.”

At the time, she was a young scholar, too afraid of retaliation for her career to speak out. Now vice-president and principal of the University of Toronto, Professor Gillespie is a powerful voice: “I don’t want to be complicit in this damaging silence anymore,” she told Al Jazeera.

At the University of Toronto, students and staff say Orchard had sex with a young woman and targeted another. Other graduate students saw how scared their friend was when he tried to drag him into a late-night pub crawl around campus. They complained to their department, but all they heard was that a letter was placed in his personal file, which infuriated Orchard.

Since moving to Oxford in 2013, comments online have made it clear that his reputation is well known. “I ask Oxford to explain why they rewarded and protected Andy Orchard who has one of the worst reputations in medieval studies for his harassment of women,” says a publication.

The I-Unit forwarded its findings to Orchard and in return received a five-page letter from its lawyers. He provided his response to a number of allegations made to us, but prohibited the I-Unit from including them in this report. However, what can be said is that he disputes the conclusions of the I-Unit.

“Dangerous in a way”

The absence of any sanction is the most common finding in all of the cases the I-Unit has investigated, including that of Oxford’s other donation, Professor Peter Thompson, who specializes in American history.

“We know that feeling when there’s a man in the room who, you know, is dangerous in one way or another,” is how Mia Liyanage describes lessons with Thompson during her MA in History. .

She says he made sexist comments, was physically too familiar with the students and, like Orchard, treated the pub as an extension of the classroom.

In 2019, Mia was horrified to find that two years earlier, several history faculty members had complained that Thompson was unfit to teach. Nothing was done.

In 2020, Mia was part of a group of two students and five staff who still complained. This time, the University of Oxford confirmed the complaints of sexual harassment and alcohol use, but declined to say what steps they were taking to protect Thompson’s privacy.

A colleague from Thompson said: “His drinking and inappropriate behavior causes professional and lasting harm to young women.

Thompson declined to comment.

Another feature of the Oxford University complaint process is that women say they are obstructing any serious action to combat sexual harassment.

Postgraduate student Harriet Lester says a classmate sexually assaulted her in her college room when she was ill, heavily medicated, and unable to give consent. She didn’t want to go to the police, but filed a formal complaint with her Oxford college, Balliol.

The college told him that no further action would be taken. The college cited a clause in university policy that says if someone refuses to report a potentially criminal matter to police, the college can decide not to investigate.

Harriet told us, “I think the colleges want to keep their excellent reputation. They will do anything to prevent reports of sexual assault. Even if that means traumatizing students who make allegations of sexual assault. “

In response, Balliol College and the University of Oxford said they would not comment on individual cases, but take all allegations of sexual harassment very seriously, as well as the welfare of staff. and students.

If you or someone you know has been sexually harassed or assaulted, Wave Network or No More Directory may be able to help.


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