The Cherwell Affair

“Lying lips are abomination to the Lord, but they that deal truly are his delight” (Proverbs 12:22).

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 (whom to my knowledge did not personally witness anything herself) went so far as to accuse me of having committed a “hate crime.” In the United Kingdom, it was defamation per se to have accused me falsely of committing such a crime. A couple of months later, that same account reappeared in another Oxford venue, Versa, which recycled the same falsehoods (the article was removed sometime in late 2018). The untruths from the original Cherwell and Versa articles resurfaced obliquely in a second Cherwell article in September 2017 alongside new lies supplied once again by one of the original false accusers quoted in the first Cherwell article, this time over a year after I’d already left Oxford to complete my doctoral work back home in the States.

Originally in 2016, I was advised not to take legal action to see the initial Cherwell article retracted or to sue for defamation, because doing so potentially would be counterproductive since it would have only exacerbated the harassment I was already facing. However, late in 2017 I informally contacted the Cherwell editorial staff to see whether the article might be taken down, but I was told no. Because of its online presence for years (it was showing prominently all the way into fall of 2018 after I arrived at Wake Forest), it has caused many who have read it to form a false impression of both me and the events in question, and so I have felt it necessary 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 false and malicious—I did not “threaten” or “disturb” my fellow Christ Church students. It is not necessary to take this simply on the authority of my word alone. Two separate eyewitness statements were supplied to the Christ Church Censors Office, independently establishing that I did not conduct myself in the way as reported by the Cherwell. There were many others present who also witnessed what happened and were prepared to speak out against the smear campaign that was being orchestrated against me, but they were intimidated into silence. 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 Christ Church Senior Censor 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 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 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.

In smearing me, no doubt the students who supplied comment to the articles (or indeed whomever perhaps encouraged them to do so) meant to tarnish my reputation in turn making securing an academic post basically impossible (I went two years without an interview); discouraging publishers from contracting any of my works in progress; supplying future ammunition for others to cast aspersions on me and my collegiality; and deterring others from including my work at conferences or inviting me for speaking engagements.

Sometimes people ask me why I don’t take this tab down. The implication is that somehow I’m in error by keeping the truth up. There usually also is an implication that somehow this entire situation is already behind me, and that I should move on. If only! The reality is that no matter how long the record has been set straight, the lies resurface, and in ways directly damaging to my efforts as a philosopher. In May 2018, my alma mater Cal Poly (SLO), from which I’d graduated in 2010 on very good terms, would not have me back to read from Phenomenology in France because “student activists” there threatened to “no-platform” me. Later that same September I was ambushed by a heckler at a Rice talk. Really, I don’t see the issue with exposing lies that to this day are used against me regularly. Deceit is in bad taste, not speaking the truth.

Truth prevails, but it can take time before it holds sway. 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 gossip originating out of Oxford, and that it will give everyone who is willing the opportunity to move on in a spirit of honesty and peace.