Naomi Wolf wanted extra year-long embargo on controversial thesis

Oxford emails reveal efforts to block publication of DPhil thesis that was deposited almost six years after her viva

六月 24, 2021
American feminist Naomi Wolf based her 2019 book on studies at the University of Oxford
Source: Getty
Naomi Wolf came to prominence for her feminist best-seller ‘The Beauty Myth’

Naomi Wolf attempted to block the publication of her error-strewn doctoral thesis for a further year after submitting it to the University of Oxford’s digital archive more than five years late.

According to internal emails seen by Times Higher Education, the American feminist requested an additional extension to embargo her DPhil dissertation after depositing it, alongside a lengthy corrections sheet, with Oxford’s research archive at the end of December 2020.

Normally, those awarded a DPhil at Oxford are required to submit an electronic copy of their thesis at least five days before their degree is conferred either at a ceremony or in absentia. Dr Wolf’s DPhil was awarded in April 2015.

According to Dr Wolf, the delay on releasing the thesis would give her time to seek “legal representation” in the UK. She did not respond to THE’s request for comment. Earlier this month, she was suspended again by Twitter, where she has posted unfounded theories about Covid-19 vaccines.

It follows a tsunami of criticism over her book Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love, which was based on her doctoral dissertation, after the BBC Radio 3 presenter Matthew Sweet pointed out on-air in June 2019 that Dr Wolf had, based on a misreading of criminal records, wrongly claimed that several gay men had been executed in Britain after 1857.

The controversy was reignited earlier this year when other errors highlighted by Dr Sweet appeared in a reissued version of the book, with several men cited as examples of anti-gay injustice actually having been convicted for sexual offences against children and animals.

The episode became a major talking point in Victorian history and queer studies, but it also raised issues about the robustness and transparency of Oxford’s doctoral examinations because Dr Wolf’s thesis remained hidden from sight and the identity of her examiners still remains unknown.

Internal emails passed to THE show that the incident prompted soul-searching within the university itself, with one unnamed Bodleian Library staff member reflecting that the furore provided “some further ‘ammunition’ to change the default embargo for thesis and restrictions applied to PhD work”, while another email mentioned The Daily Telegraph’s “blistering takedown of the paperback edition, mentioning the PhD source”.

Other emails show that staff were concerned that the university had “faced (unfair) accusations of not being transparent about this particular thesis”, which had been granted a three-year embargo.

As Dr Wolf had not submitted a digital copy of her thesis, however, when the embargo elapsed in 2018 it was not available to view. It was eventually lodged in December 2020, when it was granted a temporary embargo until March, pending the decision on a longer one.

But her request for this extension was turned down by a member of Oxford’s Faculty of English, who wrote in an email on 16 February that the further year-long dispensation “seems unnecessarily long for the purpose of obtaining legal advice”.

“As your DPhil was approved by the Graduate Studies Committee on 27 April 2015, nearly six years have now passed. This length of delay in the availability of a thesis is very unusual,” adds the email.

An Oxford spokesman said the university would “always make all reasonable endeavours to ensure that DPhil theses are deposited in a timely manner”.



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