Oxford professors abused position with sexist and drunken conduct

Prominent British universities are not dealing with complaints of sexual harassment effectively, appearing more prepared to dismiss them than punish the perpetrators, according to evidence gathered during a two-year investigation.

‘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 running this year. One of his predecessors was J R R  Tolkien, who held the same position when he wrote the Hobbit and much of Lord of the Rings.

Orchard’s teaching career started at Oxford’s academic rival, the University of Cambridge. And that is where two women, now both highly respected academics, encountered him in the 1990’s.

“His academic reputation was high, his personal reputation was as an alcoholic and a sexual predator”, says Professor Catherine Karkov, chair of Art History at Leeds University.

“He held meetings in the pub rather than in his office. So he was drunk many times for meetings.”

Professor Ananya Kabir, now professor of English Literature at Kings College, London, chose Cambridge for her PhD precisely so she could be supervised by Orchard, who had a brilliant reputation as a scholar of the medieval era.

She says her view of him changed completely after a fellow postgraduate confided that she was in a sexual relationship with Orchard and terrified of the consequences if she ended it.

“There was a primal fear. The repercussions were unspecified and therefore nightmarish. It’s an entirely unequal power relationship. Your PhD is your whole world,” says Kabir.

This power dynamic was very apparent in the I-Unit’s investigation across UK universities. There was a fraught relationship between female postgraduate students and their male supervisors, gatekeepers to future careers for women in academia.

Kabir and Karkov say they reported their concerns about Orchard’s affair and his drinking to senior academics but Cambridge University took no action.

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