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 complete my doctoral thesis back home in the States.

In 2016, I was advised not to take legal action to see the initial Cherwell article retracted, because doing so potentially would be time-consuming, costly, and would only have 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 until very recently prominent presence online for years, 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 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 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 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.

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; and deterring others from including my work at conferences or inviting me for 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 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.