The Cherwell Affair

In February 2016, an Oxford student newspaper printed an article about me, alleging that I’d been involved in a campus “incident” in which I supposedly had made “verbally abusive, homophobic, sexist, and ableist” comments. One person quoted in the article (who to my knowledge did not personally witness the events in question) went so far as to accuse me of having committed a “hate crime.” A couple of months later, that same account was reprinted in another online Oxford venue, Versa, which recycled the same falsehoods. The untruths from the original Cherwell and Versa articles resurfaced in a second Cherwell article in September 2017 alongside new lies supplied once again by one of the original false witnesses quoted in the first article, this time over a year after I’d already left Oxford to return home to the States.

In 2016, I was advised not to take legal action to have the first Cherwell article retracted, because doing so potentially would be time-consuming, costly, and would only have exacerbated the harassment I was already facing. Late last year I informally contacted the Cherwell editorial staff to see whether the article might be taken down, but I was told no. Thus, due to its continued online prominence and the appearance of the second 2017 article, I have felt compelled to address the story here, to emphasize that I did not treat anyone wrongly as was reported, and that I am not the sort of man who would.

The allegations made in all three stories were baseless and malicious—I did not “threaten” or “disturb” my fellow Christ Church students. Two separate eyewitness statements were supplied to the college authorities, independently establishing that I did not conduct myself in the way I was falsely reported to have behaved. I have included an anonymized copy of one of those statements below. I have never been shown the second statement, but I do know that the Oxford authorities received it, and that it corroborates what the first says. On receipt of that second statement, the Senior Proctor at the time, Dr Brian Parkinson, said that he was expecting me to file a complaint against those whom had misbehaved.

Student Statement

Perhaps more importantly, here also is a statement that I received from the Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, on 30 August 2016, which sympathized with my situation, but advised me not to take legal action to have the article redacted, since my research and teaching record speaks for itself.

Christ Church Statement

It is true that I am not ashamed of my faith—I obey Christ. It is false that I mistreated anyone—I was not threatening or hateful, and it simply is untrue that, as one of my student accusers alleged, it had been “impossible to reason with [me].” If that description accurately characterizes anyone, it is true of those who on the day of the “incident” barged into the middle of a private conversation to accost me in a mob, tried publicly to mock and belittle me over college email, lied in the Cherwell, intimated into silence their fellow collegians who wanted to speak out about what they had seen really happen, and then staged a self-aggrandizing photo-op to circulate over college email.

The smear that I’m an entitled maniac plays on unjust stereotypes some hold against Christians—no doubt the students who supplied comment to the article (or indeed whomever perhaps encouraged them to do so) meant to exploit those prejudices, hoping that, having tarnished my reputation, it would make securing an academic post basically impossible (prior to July 2018, I had not received an interview for over two years); discourage publishers from contracting any of my works in progress; and deter others from inviting me to present my research at conferences or other speaking engagements.

I only hope that my work won’t be disparaged due to false rumor. I care deeply about my work and teaching in philosophy, so I hope that saying something about these articles will dispel any slanderous gossip about my time in Oxford, and that it will give everyone who is willing the opportunity to move on in a spirit of honesty and peace.